Swiss Club’s Raclette Evening

Position, 14.11.2015

Remarks by Dr. Ralf Heckner, Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, at the Swiss Club’s Raclette Evening on Saturday, 14 November 2015, at 6:30 p.m., Legato Getaway, Nairobi 

Chairlady, Dear Therese,

Dear fellow citizens,

Dear members of the Swiss Club,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today and I’m looking forward to enjoying my first tasty Raclette on this continent. Although it is not that long ago that I was still living in Switzerland, and could have enjoyed a Raclette any day, it is still a dish that seems to taste – and smell – twice as good when eaten abroad.

Let me introduce myself. Today’s Raclette evening is also your opportunity to get to know your "new" Ambassador. My wife and children are here with me tonight and I am pleased to inform you that we are settling in well – the people here in Kenya are friendly and the country is beautiful. Before taking up this new assignment as Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya, Burundi, Ruanda and Uganda, I previously served as the head of the Crisis Management Centre in Berne. My job was to look after Swiss citizens abroad during a crisis situation and involved dealing with natural disasters, political unrest, conflict situations, hostage cases and terror attacks. My prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families of yesterday’s terror attacks in Paris. Prior to that, I dealt with U.N. affairs, human rights policy, financial and economic affairs, the Iran mandate and served in Washington D.C. and Rome.

This evening is my first opportunity to speak to you as a group of fellow Swiss citizens and it allows me to engage in one of the two main priorities I have defined for the work of the Swiss Embassy in Nairobi. My first priority is to consolidate and foster the bilateral relations between Switzerland and Kenya in economic, political and cultural terms; and you are a valuable resource to my diplomatic endeavors.

Working with you facilitates my efforts to foster the bilateral relations between Switzerland and Kenya. My second priority is you; the Swiss citizens living abroad, which brings me to the new regulations regarding Swiss nationals abroad. What is this new law concerning Swiss citizens overseas all about?

The Swiss expat communities are important for our country. 750’000 citizens reside abroad. The importance Switzerland places on this global community is reflected in our Constitution, Article 40, giving the federal government the direct task to foster its relations with these communities and the relations between them.

This article is not just being forgotten somewhere on a shelf. About a year ago, it was codified for the first time into a single Federal Act. As head of the Crisis Management Center, I contributed in the law drafting process and the legislation came into effect as of the 1st of this month.

I would like to share a few comments on this legislation and how it may impact your lives. There are three main themes worth highlighting: harmonisation and coherence, self-responsibility, and active participation.

First, harmonisation and coherence: for the first time, this new legislation brings together all matters concerning Swiss citizens living abroad in a single legal act. Two weeks ago, you had to consult 30 separate laws and regulations to access the same information. Furthermore, the law defines a "guichet unique", a "one-stop shop" for all dealings of Swiss citizens abroad with the federal government, coordinated by the Consular Directorate within the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Your immediate access to these proceedings still remains the Embassy or the Consulate. In simple terms, the new law makes it easier for you to receive assistance, guidance, and services.

Secondly, self-responsibility: The Federal Council and Parliament have put a special emphasis on this aspect. The responsibility for any action or decision taken by a Swiss citizen lies first and foremost with the individual. This applies to Swiss nationals living abroad, no less than it applies to Swiss living back home. This also translates into some of the changes that come with this new legislation. For example, certain

expenses from consular services triggered by reckless behavior may be charged to the individual responsible.

But what comes to my mind when I think of a citizen’s responsibility is also political participation. I find it sad that less than 30% of all eligible Swiss abroad are registered to vote. Although e-voting might take a little longer than initially hoped for, we try to make it easy for you to actively participate in the political process and the election of representatives. I would like to take this opportunity to echo President Simonetta Sommaruga’s call upon you to register to vote, if you have not already done so. Exercising your political rights and taking up the task of actively shaping Switzerland’s domestic and foreign policy is imperative to all of us.

Let me elaborate a little bit more on the concept of participation: taking advantage and making use of your political rights is one aspect. As the Swiss Ambassador, I would also like to encourage an active interaction between the Swiss community in Kenya and the Embassy. Before me I see a wealth of expertise and experience on and in Kenya. Your various professions and activities enable you to gain insights into the Kenyan economy, culture and society that expand far beyond what we could possibly grasp. A closer relationship with you will also help us to better communicate what we can offer – or not – as an Embassy to this community.

Before I finish I would like to reiterate the most important aspect of the new law: self-responsibility. With the rights and services offered, come duties and responsibilities. That Swiss citizens abroad are first and foremost self-responsible individuals is a cornerstone regards this new legislation.

Finally, I would like to finish by mentioning that I am looking forward to fostering relations between the Embassy and one of its most valuable assets: our Swiss community in Kenya and am more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Thank you for your attention