WEF exposes divisions among Swiss

Social Democrat Rudolf Strahm is in Brazil for the World Social Forum

Left-leaning parliamentarians are taking the government to task for ignoring the World Social Forum in Brazil.

This content was published on January 29, 2002 - 13:59

The World Social Forum styles itself as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit, and seeks alternatives to the "neo-liberal" drive towards globalisation.

Five Swiss parliamentarians heading to Porto Alegre to attend the meeting - timed to coincide with the WEF summit - are bemoaning the fact that Switzerland is sending only a token presence to the Social Forum; namely civil servants concerned with development aid and human rights.

By contrast, three cabinet ministers - out of seven - have found time to attend the WEF summit in New York.

"Switzerland is passing up a wonderful opportunity to engage the countries of the south," Social Democrat, Rudolf Strahm, told swissinfo before heading off to Brazil.

He added that it was typical of "official" Switzerland to send representatives of the government's development aid agency to such summits, but no one from the finance or economics ministries.

In Strahm's view, it is time that the government started listening to the alternatives put forward by the south, rather than "blindly" subscribing to the globalisation agenda of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.

The French government appears to be more receptive to that message. It is sending six cabinet ministers to Porto Alegre, along with a raft of civil servants. Just three ministers - albeit with the key portfolios of finance, defence and foreign affairs - are attending the WEF summit.

Divisions in Switzerland

The divisions over the WEF and the Social Forum have in turn exposed differences between French- and German- speaking Switzerland, according to one of Strahm's fellow parliamentarians, Pierre Tillmanns.

Of the five parliamentarians heading to Porto Alegre, only one - Strahm - is a German-speaker.

"Perhaps the French-speaking Swiss are more idealistic," Tillmanns told swissinfo, adding that German speakers were much more focused on economic efficiency whereas French speakers tended to be preoccupied with the "human" dimension.

Strahm believes the differences stem from the fact that globalisation has long been a hotly debated issue among French speakers unlike in German-speaking Switzerland.

"It will still be a long time before German speakers and those who set economic policy start to take account of other points of view in the globalisation debate.

Hansjörg Bolliger, Porto Alegre

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