Switzerland to boost its international presence and aid

Swiss foreign policy

Switzerland intends to be much more active in the international arena over the next decade, and will press ahead with plans to become a member of the European Union and United Nations, the government said on Thursday.

This content was published on November 16, 2000 - 19:07

Membership of the EU remains one of the top priorities, the government said in a white paper outlining the country's foreign policy agenda for the next 10 years.

A decision on when to begin entry negotiations will be taken before 2008, when the next legislative period ends.

In the meantime, the government wants to open new bilateral negotiations with the EU on a raft of issues left out of the first set of bilateral accords. These include services, training, the media, environment, internal security and customs fraud.

The other main priority remains UN membership, which the government would like to see achieved in the life of this parliament. A referendum on the issue will be held in 2002.

"The UN is where the world is and we belong to that world," said President Adolf Ogi in a presentation of the report. "We want to have a strong presence in the international institutions and a strong presence in the world. This step is logical and completely in the interests of Switzerland."

He said Swiss attempts to open up to the rest of the world were "irreversible".

His views were echoed by the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss: "We want to be more visible in the institutions which take decisions that affect us."

"We cannot defend our interests without having a responsible attitude towards our partners," Deiss said.

The report was unveiled by Ogi and Deiss after a cabinet meeting in Lugano on Wednesday. Cabinet meetings are normally held in the capital, Bern, but it was held in Ticino as a prelude to the Spring parliamentary session which will also be held in the Italian-speaking canton.

Proceedings were beamed live to the Federal government building in Bern and to the UN headquarters in Geneva. This innovation was seen as a symbolic gesture that Switzerland was eager to reach out to the rest of the world.

The new guidelines state that the cornerstones of foreign policy will be encouraging peaceful coexistence, the respect of human rights and promotion of democracy, alleviating poverty, environmental protection and the strengthening of Switzerland's economic position in the world.

Among the other priorities outlined in the report are: raising the level of development aid to 0.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product by 2011 - a rise of 0.05 per cent compared to 1999.

Other objectives are to concentrate peace-building activities in eastern and south-eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region, and to send more Swiss troops abroad on missions mandated by the UN or Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Great emphasis will also be placed on promoting Swiss economic interests abroad.

Underpinning all these objectives is the "preservation of Switzerland's independence and prosperity".

Deiss said that Switzerland would continue to remain neutral, but added that since the last foreign policy report was published in 1993, the world had changed and Swiss neutrality had "evolved".

He said the main tenets of Swiss foreign policy remained valid, but the instruments needed to achieve them had changed.

The new report states that: "These global issues far exceed the capacity of an individual state to respond and find solutions. If Switzerland wishes to make any contribution ... it will only be able to do so in close collaboration with other states."

"Self-righteousness and standing on the sidelines can endanger the country's major interests," it adds.

by Roy Probert

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