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Outgoing diplomat praises bilateral route

Franz von Däniken says that Switzerland needs allies Keystone

A senior Swiss diplomat who played an important role in drafting the bilateral agreements with the European Union is stepping down from his foreign ministry post.

Franz von Däniken, who is second in command after Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, told swissinfo the second round of accords made good economic sense for Switzerland.

He added that he was convinced parliament would approve the accords, which provided an alternative to EU membership.

Von Däniken said that after five years as state secretary he was now preparing for a new challenge as head of a charitable foundation.

swissinfo: Why are you leaving what you once referred to as a “fascinating job” in the foreign ministry?

Franz von Daniken: I have been state secretary for more than five years. It’s a position that has given me many experiences and rewarding times.

But with the finalising of the second round of bilateral accords [with the EU], I started to consider whether I should once again take up a diplomatic posting abroad or try something completely new. I chose the second of these two options.

swissinfo: You will be joining the Drosos Foundation as its head. Do you have ideas yet in which direction it should go?

F.v.D.: It is early days for the foundation, but we have broad aims. In the most general sense, it is all about making a contribution to improving living conditions worldwide. That could include projects in developing countries.

The foundation will put a particular stress on developing the creative capabilities of young people.

But these are such far-reaching aims that we have to set priorities and develop ideas if we are not to end up simply going around the world distributing funds indiscriminately.

swissinfo: Is there any connection between your departure from the foreign ministry and the savings that are being made there?

F.v.D.: No! But it comes at a time when all ministries are having to look at their activities and see where cost cuts can be made.

The Swiss foreign ministry is relatively economical to run compared with other ministries. It claims about three per cent of total federal government spending. But painful cuts are unavoidable in the foreign ministry too.

swissinfo: What significance does the conclusion of the bilateral accords have for you?

F.v.D.: These agreements solve problems, they are good news economically and will deepen cooperation with the EU. They are in the interests of Switzerland.

The political advantage of these agreements is that they make sense if Switzerland does not join the EU or decides to join later. They take nothing for granted and make sense in every case. That is what makes them attractive.

swissinfo: How do you rate the chances of the second round of bilateral accords among the Swiss?

F.v.D.: Parliament, I am confident, will vote in favour of these treaties. And that will be an important signal in the event of a vote on the individual accords.

swissinfo: You have always pointedly spoken out in favour of EU membership. Why does Switzerland need partner countries and alliances?

F.v.D.: International relations have become so complex, the internationalisation of all areas of life has become so developed that it would be an illusion to believe that Switzerland can manage to handle the big challenges of the future alone.

Added to that, we have interests to defend. Realistically, the best way to do that is in association with other like-minded countries.

swissinfo: Would a free trade area with the United States be another possibility? And what are the chances of that?

F.v.D.: There are several reasons for entering a serious dialogue with the US on a free trade accord.

Switzerland has in the past few years concluded free trade agreements with many countries. It is not clear to me why we should not discuss a free trade accord with such an important economic and trade partner for Switzerland as the US.

swissinfo: What role do the estimated 600,000 Swiss abroad play in Swiss diplomacy?

F.v.D.: The perception of Switzerland abroad is heavily dependent on the perception of our citizens abroad. Active, energetic Swiss communities abroad make an important contribution to Switzerland’s international standing.

swissinfo: How do you see the role of Switzerland in the future?

F.v.D.: Switzerland stands for a lot in the world. Think of its humanitarian tradition, its unbiased involvement in trying to solve conflicts and its engagement in developing countries.

In the past few years, Switzerland has also come more to the fore in peace promotion. In this area we have something to contribute to the world.

We have no historical burden. We have no hidden strategic interest. We are honest brokers.

swissinfo-interview: Christian Raaflaub

Franz von Däniken has been the head of the foreign ministry’s political section since 1999.

Von Däniken, whose official rank allows him to stand in for foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, joined the diplomatic service in 1976.

The 55-year-old will leave his position in February to take up the directorship of the new, philanthropic, Drosos foundation.

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