You are here:
Ambassadors Conference 2012 - Speech by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter - Berne, 20.08.201220.08.2012
"Neutrality, solidarity, responsability" - Check against delivery
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am proud of our country and proud of the work you do.
Our world is undergoing rapid change. Our continent is beset by instability. And there are many challenges facing Switzerland, an independent, sovereign state which does not belong to any alliance or grouping of countries.
I am proud of our country because it is a rock of stability in a world of instability. I am proud of our country because it has been shaped by strong values, to which it holds true and which ensure its success. I am proud of our country because it assumes its responsibilities towards future generations and towards the challenges facing the world. I am proud of our country because it is determined to fulfil its destiny and defend its sovereignty, even if this is sometimes a hard path to follow.
In this changing world, this small sovereign country must fight harder than others to make its voice heard, to defend its rights, to take decisions. This makes the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs all the more complex and essential. We play a vital role in serving our country and its people.
I am proud of the work you do, of the work of our Department, because it is work of high quality. I am proud because this work is done with a great sense of duty and commitment to serving our country. I am proud because our Department demonstrates the professionalism, high-mindedness, flexibility and creativity required to act effectively.
Switzerland must work harder than other countries. It must anticipate, innovate, and be better prepared to pursue its chosen course and make its voice heard.
I have had the good fortune to head the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs for a little over 7 months. Let me tell you, very simply, that it is an immense pleasure to perform this exciting task day by day and to share this task with you. I believe it is really possible for us to act, to bring about change, to move things forward, thanks to the work of the whole Department. Through our immense, patient, intelligent efforts – often away from public view – we can act for the good of our country and for humankind as a whole.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Switzerland, we have the exceptional good fortune – and I say exceptional advisably because this is perhaps something unique in world history – we have the good fortune to live as free people in a free country. We need to be aware of this fact. And we need to reflect on the significance of the good fortune that has been handed down to us by our ancestors.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way which respects and enhances the freedom of others.” These are the words of a great freedom-fighter, someone who sacrificed 30 years of his life in this struggle: Nelson Mandela. These words are true for every man and woman. These words are also true for a country, our country.
Switzerland is a free, secure and prosperous country. It is its duty, and the duty of its government, to defend this freedom, prosperity and security. Our country’s foreign policy is in fact geared to pursuing these three aims, which are defined in our fundamental charter, our Swiss social contract, the Federal Constitution.
Article 2 of the Constitution stipulates that the Swiss Confederation shall protect the liberty and rights of the people and safeguard the independence and security of the country.
And Article 54, devoted to foreign policy, adds that the Confederation shall ensure that the independence of Switzerland and its welfare is safeguarded.
Foreign policy is a safeguard of our interests: defending and maintaining the independence, prosperity and security of our country.
It is all these things, but it is also more.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way which respects and enhances the freedom of others,” to quote Mandela again.
We might well add:
“To be prosperous is not merely to water one’s own vegetable patch, but to lay sustainable foundations for the prosperity of all.”
“To be secure is not merely to bolt one’s door, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the security of humankind.”
Swiss foreign policy, as the Constitution again makes clear, is therefore not just a matter of defending our interests. It also involves promoting our values, the values that make Switzerland what it is, that ensure Switzerland is recognised and respected, that strengthen our national unity and lay the basis for our future.
Because the Federal Constitution continues:
The Confederation shall in particular assist in the alleviation of need and poverty in the world and promote respect for democracy and human rights, the peaceful co-existence of peoples, as well as the conservation of natural resources.
- Alleviating poverty,
- Human rights,
- Environmental protection.
These are the five values that the Constituent Assembly particularly asks us to promote. And it did its work well, because a person who seeks to preserve only his immediate interests may succeed in promoting them in the short term, but he undermines the foundation on which his house is built.
None of us would want to redecorate an apartment in a building that is on the verge of collapse. We know that before redecorating it we would have to reinforce the structure and the masonry of the other floors in order to protect others from the danger of the building collapsing, and to protect ourselves. This means demonstrating both solidarity and responsibility.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Each of you, in performing your functions, is better placed than others to see the world evolving, developing, changing. You are ideally placed as observers and actors to monitor and understand the changes taking place. And I do not think that any of you will contradict this observation: in the modern world, the only certainty is uncertainty.
Many crises, changes and revolutions are going on around us. Balances shift, divisions appear, territories rise and fall, the ground quakes here, fault lines open up over there, violent rifts shake and shape the landscape. The shifting of the tectonic plates of global geopolitics and economics seems to be accelerating, modelling a world different and more complex than the one we know.
Globalisation is proceeding apace: everything is becoming more interdependent. Something that happens in one part of the world has repercussions elsewhere. A tsunami in Japan, a debt crisis in Greece, instability in Somalia, revolutions in the Arab world: all of these events, and many others, have a direct impact on our societies.
And the challenges facing the world, in particular the gigantic challenges faced by emerging countries, also affect us. Think climate change, access to water and food resources, the environment, the management of mobility, energy, demography, or the aging of the population and related diseases – an issue of concern not only to the West, as it will also be an enormous challenge for a country as densely populated and fast-growing as China. In all of these fields, and many others, the challenges are global and concern each one of us.
Against this background, Swiss foreign policy can continue to be based on principles which have proved their worth: permanent neutrality, the universality of our relationships, and our determination to work in accordance with the rule of law.
But against the background I have just described, Switzerland must go even further. It must continue to affirm its solidarity towards the world, as it has done traditionally, and must take its share of responsibility for the future of our planet and the international system. More than ever our activities must be inspired by the triple principles of neutrality, solidarity and responsibility.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With this in mind, at the beginning of 2012 the Federal Council adopted a foreign policy strategy for the years 2012 to 2016, in other words for the current legislature. The Council feels it is essential to be able to refer to a strategic document of this kind, which is deliberately kept short, in setting objectives and determining ways of achieving them, and in subsequently setting priorities for the foreign policy actions and projects it will pursue over this period.
However, four years, a single legislature, is rather short for implementing a strategy of this kind. In fact, this strategy for 2012-2016 is part of a longer-term vision, and this is the vision we want to develop at this Ambassadors Conference. We want to determine the ideal positioning of Switzerland in 10 years’ time, and how to move towards this positioning. Of course, we do not know what the world will be like in 10 years’ time, and we cannot predict all the upheavals, uncertainties and changes that are likely to affect our planet. But a medium and long-term strategy can never completely foresee how external factors will develop and influence things. The important thing is to set the objectives we want to achieve and, on this basis, define the resources we need to deploy. It does not matter if the way is slightly longer than anticipated, if there are obstacles to overcome or get round, if a storm blows up and we need to trim our sails, if wind and slope conspire against us, or if we have to traverse difficult trails.
“We make our way as we go”, to quote the poet Antonio Machado. It is we who decide on our route, and our journey has meaning if we know where we are going. It does not matter if we are not yet clear about every stage of the itinerary.
This journey is a collective enterprise, team work, the job of our “national team”, in which you are key players.
As I said in my introduction, I am proud of the work done in our Department because of its quality, its precision and the intelligence it requires, and the commitment shown by each of you.
In our international network, we have an instrument of great quality and usefulness. It will of course be necessary to adapt this network to a changing world, to developing needs and technologies, but our country must never, in any circumstances, weaken its international network. On the contrary, the network needs to be strengthened, and that must be a priority for our Department.
All our work needs to be integrated and, with this in mind, our current experiment in opening an integrated embassy in Myanmar sends an important signal: a single team, a single image, a single building for Switzerland’s embassy in that country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our Department is a team, a team which needs to be one and united, because it represents Switzerland, and there can be only one Switzerland in our relations with the outside world, even though our internal diversity is a source of strength.
Basically, what applies to Switzerland applies to the Department: it must draw on the strength that derives from its diversity and not allow itself to be weakened by differences.
The Department is made up of several divisions, each contributing its specific field of expertise. The Department pursues several lines of action, but its overall direction is that defined by the Federal Council strategy: the defence of Switzerland’s interests and values.
Our Department is the sum of the qualities of different generations. And as we are working for the long term, as our objective is for the next 10 years, it is natural and desirable that we should always be thinking of recruiting the skills and intelligence of youth. The FDFA has many new talents, representative of the younger generation. One cannot go wrong in trusting and developing the skills of younger people. It is the role and responsibility of long-serving diplomats to harness the energies of their younger colleagues and enable them to develop to the full by sharing with them all the benefits of experience. This is why we wanted to give room at this conference to a number of younger FDFA members, as you will see shortly. They will be sharing their vision of the challenges facing Switzerland as we move towards 2022, by when we shall have passed the baton to them and they will be steering the ship. This is merely a prelude. I hope the whole Department will be more systematic in developing these immense internal resources, the only resources we have, our human resources.
I also ask you to be creative in your work: never hesitate to put forward ideas and express your opinions within the Department.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In many of my international contacts over these first few months, I have been struck by the importance of the role Switzerland can play when it positions itself well and works effectively. Our country may be small, but it certainly punches above its weight. Emblematic of this is Geneva, our key international centre, which must be one of the world’s best-known cities despite its relatively small population.
To develop its influence and room for manoeuvre, our country nevertheless needs to be “one step ahead”: it needs to take up niche positions, offer a particular profile and special facilities and services, provide added value not available elsewhere.
This demands intelligence, creativity and a lot of hard work. Our Department abounds in these qualities. But if we want to have achieved our objectives in 10 years’ time, maybe we need these qualities in even greater abundance, because in this changing world, where competition is ever fiercer, we need to stand out from the crowd even more.
I would therefore ask you to work even harder, to be even more creative, even more zealous in pursuing the idea, the project, the initiative that will make the difference, that will make our country distinctive, so that it can really shine. Switzerland has no choice: in all fields, it is “condemned to achieve excellence”. It is your work, your commitment, your creativity that will make the difference. I am sure I can count on all my colleagues in the Department, and I am grateful to you all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Taking into account the interests, values and principles I referred to earlier, the Federal Council has defined four priority axes for its activities. These axes are destined to extend beyond the four years of the current legislature, and the purpose of this 2012 Ambassadors Conference is to imagine what point Switzerland may have reached in these various fields in 2022. How can we equip ourselves to move in this direction?
The first axis of our activity is to achieve stronger and better relations with our neighbours, an area which always demands special care and attention. Between neighbours which conduct such close and intensive relations, with frontier regions which have become bi-national or even tri-national urban areas, and have so much in common, it is natural that new issues will arise on a regular basis.
We need to be able to discuss these issues with our neighbours, and resolve them with goodwill and creativity, as in the case of Basel-Mulhouse airport: a situation which was eased once both governments concerned were determined to reach a settlement. Our relations with Italy, Germany and France have developed considerably in recent months in a number of diverse and sensitive areas, as evidenced by the reactions provoked: taxation, economic relations and the future of our airports. I deliberately devoted my first bilateral visits to our immediate neighbours: Vienna in January, Berlin in February. In the case of France and Italy, I was able to meet my counterparts during the first half of the year in the context of multilateral meetings. On these occasions, we agreed that visits to their capital cities would take place as soon as possible during the second part of the year, and I shall in fact be visiting both Paris and Rome in the first half of September. The day after tomorrow, I shall be in Vaduz in the framework of a quadrilateral meeting of German-speaking countries. These meetings are all part of the Federal Council’s strategy and supplement the work and meetings of a number of departments in developing our relations, as well as past and future meetings between the President of the Confederation and various Heads of State and Government. This activity is enabling us to launch or relaunch an on-going process with each of our neighbours geared to strengthening our cooperation and exchanges. One thing is certain: in ten years’ time, our neighbours will still be the same they are today! But what challenges may arise in the context of our bilateral relations with them over that period? What will be the framework for our relations? What do we need to do to ensure that our relations remain close and strong on a day-to-day basis? In what practical ways can we encourage the development of these zones of exchange and cross-border life along Switzerland’s frontier with its neighbours? What actions can we take to ensure that Switzerland is better known and better understood by its neighbours? These are a few of the questions we need to consider in the days ahead.
And then, as you know, the Federal Council has decided to accord a special place to relations with the United Kingdom: given the special links between our two countries, we will ascribe to this relationship the same importance as to relations with our immediate neighbours. My meeting in London on 1 August with the Secretary of State at the Foreign Office and several meetings with the Minister for European Affairs again provided the opportunity to lay the foundations for closer, long-term cooperation, to which we must actively contribute through our hard work and creativity. In the coming days, there will be opportunity to explore some of the directions we might take.
The 2nd strategic axis is that of relations with the European Union and its member countries. Here again, the situation is evolving: as you know, the Federal Council clearly demonstrated its willingness to pursue and renew the bilateral approach by making some new institutional proposals to the EU, in response to the four criteria formulated by the Council of the European Union in its conclusions published in 2010. Switzerland has also adopted a mandate to dialogue with the EU on corporate taxation. This supplements current dialogues and negotiations on several other matters.
In Brussels, we have had contacts with Presidents Barroso and van Rompuy, and with the Cypriot Presidency of the European Union. Both Mr Barroso, in Brussels, and Mrs Kozakou-Marcoullis, in Cyprus, have agreed to visit Switzerland in the autumn and we are in the process of fixing suitable dates. Here again, dialogue needs to be maintained, including political dialogue. We are far apart on some issues, but Switzerland has taken an important and constructive step towards the EU on the institutional issue. Between trusting partners, it is important that that there be a willingness on both sides to engage in discussion and sincerely seek ways of moving forward together. We sense this willingness on the part of both the EU and its Member States. We must continue to work hard to explain the Swiss position and proposals, and we shall do so intensively during this second half of the year.
What are the main issues pertaining to the bilateral approach over the next 10 years? How can we renew and develop it? What are the obstacles and opportunities? What special role can Switzerland continue to play in the European context? A number of questions, on which I would ask you to work and deploy your creativity!
As you know, the 3rd axis is that of stability in Europe, on its fringes and in the world generally. We contribute to this stability through our cooperation and development efforts, for which Parliament is currently debating a budget of CHF 11.3 billion, or one Swiss franc per day per inhabitant, over the next 4 years.
This will raise our contribution to 0.5% of gross national income in the years ahead. This effort to achieve stability also includes our desire to contribute to a political solution in Syria, and to the stability of the region, by providing support for the reception of refugees in neighbouring countries and by calling on the Security Council to refer the case of Syria and the atrocities committed on all sides to the International Criminal Court. It also includes our activities in favour of human security: the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way which respects and enhances the freedom of others”, to quote Mandela once again. That is exactly what Switzerland is striving to do in this field.
How can we act even more effectively in these areas? What are the new fields of activity? How can we strengthen knowledge and implementation on the ground, and improve the way the application of international humanitarian law is monitored, of which Switzerland as depositary of the Geneva Conventions is effectively the guarantor? Another set of questions for the decade ahead.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, there is the 4th axis, the 4th arm of the federal cross. This arm is just as essential as the other three. The Swiss cross consists of 4 arms of equal importance, so this arm is not of lesser importance simply because it bears the number 4. The Federal Council’s strategy does not mean limiting Switzerland’s diplomatic activity and foreign policy to our immediate neighbours and continental Europe. We want to strengthen and improve these essential relationships, but we are just as concerned to strengthen our strategic partnerships with the world of tomorrow.
For what are we witnessing at present? The term the “old continent” as opposed to the New World, which has been in use for centuries, has little currency now as we see former “old worlds” becoming a new world on the continent of Asia, and we see a new New World emerging in South America. Yes, the world is redefining itself and the 4th axis of our strategic activity consists in developing and consolidating targeted partnerships. We cannot be present everywhere, and this means making some adjustments to our international network, but we want to target our partnerships in an intelligent way. Obviously, we want to consolidate and, if necessary, strengthen our strategic partnerships with the G-20 and the BRICS countries. But it is not just these five big “bricks” that constitute the foundation of the coming new world. Many more modestly sized emerging countries also offer great opportunities and promising partnerships for our country. We should not lose sight of them, but rather focus more sharply on them. We need to identify potential partners at an early stage, grasp the issues involved, define the added value Switzerland can contribute, find projects we can work on together. This is another area we shall be considering this week.
This 4th axis also covers our multilateral cooperation and the role of Geneva and Switzerland as a place of multilateral diplomacy. Switzerland has been a member of the United Nations for 10 years now. We shall be celebrating this anniversary in a few days’ time (with the UN Secretary General visiting Switzerland on 10 and 11 September). We need to throw ourselves into this second decade, which may even see us become a member of the Security Council, in 2023-2024. Switzerland’s priorities are to reform the institution to make it more efficient and to improve security on our planet. How do we translate these priorities into practical action? Who will our partners be? What initiatives should we be launching?
And how should we be strengthening and consolidating the role and place of Geneva in an international setting characterised by ever fiercer competition?
In 2014, Switzerland will also be assuming the presidency of the OSCE. Its work during this year must be geared to the long term: what should our priorities and activities be, and in what regions should we be operating to improve human security throughout Europe and on its fringes over the next decade?
Finally, Switzerland is a nation of science and innovation. This is a matter of strategic importance for our country. How can we make our role in the world more effective and useful in this sphere? And how can we improve the perception others have of us: how can we develop our scientific diplomacy, which is something the Federal Council wishes to promote? How do we find the right partners?
Finally, how can we develop and consolidate international Geneva in a context of increasing competition? What strategy and what facilities do we need to develop?
Another set of questions to tackle in the coming days.
Finally, looking beyond these 4 axes, the Federal Council has placed a key duty at the heart of its strategy: supporting Swiss people living and travelling abroad, which it sees as a priority mission. More than 700,000 Swiss people live abroad, and the Swiss are great travellers. In an increasingly interconnected world, where everything moves more quickly, we need to adopt a more consistent approach to our relations with the “5th Switzerland” and develop a public service which is of high quality, modern and fit for purpose. In particular, we shall be working to meet these challenges by introducing, in the medium term, software tools designed to simplify procedures. A key instrument of this policy will be the law devoted to the Swiss Abroad, which Parliament is preparing to draft. I am delighted to note that this vital project has got off to a good start and is based on excellent cooperation between the competent sub-committee of the Council of State and the FDFA and its services. This legislation may also provide an opportunity to define the limits of the role of the State and to affirm the importance of individual responsibility when Swiss people travel in unstable or sometimes even dangerous regions, and the fact that the State cannot allow itself to be put under pressure – financial or any other kind – by terrorist groups. This is a burning issue internationally and you are aware that Switzerland makes it very clear that it never pays ransoms. For instance, it did not make any such payments in the cases resolved this year in Pakistan and Mali.
How can we best develop this 4th axis and these partnerships and strategic themes? What are the new issues and needs? What will the problems be 10 years from now? Here again, we need to tackle these question in the days ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have work to do. It is exciting. It is vitally important. I very much hope that this Ambassadors Conference will be a success. We wanted it to return to Bern and decided to shorten it by one day to give you time for personal contacts and for your work with the administrative services. This conference will be a success if it enables us to think ahead and develop new lines of thought and ideas for our strategy for the coming decade. I have no doubt that you will make your contribution. No doubt that the younger generation will be lending us a hand. This conference will be a success if it leads to new thinking on all these topics – thinking which we hope will be further developed after the conference through the magic of electronic communication. Information technology tends to make us forgetful of the longer term: tweets and blogs can make us live and react in an almost absolute present. But it can also help us to network and pursue long-term thinking and ideas, through such tools as CH@World. I hope this will be true of the thinking and ideas set in train during this conference.
The poet is always right: “We make our way as we go”, so let us get going, let us get down to work. Let us shape this coming decade so that our country remains free and responsible, secure and prosperous, and able to respect and enhance the freedom of others.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your present and future commitment.
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
back to list