"A people-oriented, dialogue-based and innovative foreign policy, for the benefit of Switzerland, Europe and a more peaceful world"

Bern, 17.08.2015 - Berne, 17.08.2015 – Opening address by the Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter on the occasion of the Ambassadors and International Network Conference 2015 - Check against delivery

Members of the FDFA,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to open this conference today alongside Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Dear Frank, welcome! And thank you for agreeing to be here today with us to discuss foreign policy. Your tireless commitment to a more peaceful world has earned you the respect of all of us.

Germany and Switzerland share many challenges. We defend the same values. We both believe firmly in finding political solutions to conflicts. We are both willing to take on responsibility in foreign policy. Our two countries are bound closely together – economically, culturally and through human relations.

Germany and Switzerland are partners. In the context of the Ukraine crisis and the Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE we have developed a very close level of cooperation and we would like to build still more on that partnership. Yesterday as part of the four-way meeting with Austria and Liechtenstein we initiated long-term cooperation on a number of important OSCE dossiers. In our bilateral talks today we will be discussing further areas of cooperation, also touching on Europe.

The next few years present two key issues for Swiss foreign policy: securing a relationship between Switzerland and the EU that is stable and well-functioning, based on partnership and geared towards further development; and satisfying the need for an enhanced engagement for peace and security. In both of these areas we want to work closely together with Germany, as partners for stability, prosperity and peace.

Let's start with Europe.

The way that Switzerland and the EU shape their relations is very important for both sides.
We have a shared interest in maintaining a stable bilateral partnership. As an important trading partner and bridge between the north and south of Europe, Switzerland is more closely intertwined with the EU than some of the member states themselves. A stable partnership is also important because Switzerland and the EU face challenges that can only be resolved together. We are talking here about our prosperity and our security.

Particularly significant is the convergence of interests with our neighbours: one third of all Swiss foreign trade and almost two thirds of our trade with the EU is with the neighbouring countries. Switzerland for its part is among the ten most important trading partners of each of its neighbours. Human ties are also strong: more than 750,000 citizens of neighbouring states live and work in Switzerland, and a further 290,000 commute across the border each day to work in our country.

The links that bind us with our biggest neighbour, Germany, are impressive: trade with Germany alone accounts for almost one quarter of Switzerland's global trade volume, while Germany offsets more than twice its trade deficit with China through its trade with Switzerland. In fact Switzerland's trade with Baden-Württemberg alone equals its trade volume with the United States. Almost 300,000 German citizens live and work in Switzerland. Swiss companies employ some 290,000 people in Germany.

The evolution of Swiss-EU relations matters for Germany too, especially as regards the many citizens of both countries who live and work in the other.

It is for this reason that the Federal Council wishes to pursue particularly close dialogue with Germany – and also with France, Italy and Austria – on the outstanding issues surrounding Swiss-EU relations. We can and indeed must find solutions that are forward-looking and we must do this together.

The EU is currently confronted with numerous crises in its neighbourhood. At the same time it is wrestling with its own internal functioning and identity. The debt crisis and the euro crisis have created a divisive political and economic wedge between member states. The uncertainty surrounding the future position of the United Kingdom in the EU and the rise of populist parties render the further evolution of European unification less predictable than ever.

But three things are clear to me: firstly, the history of European unification is one built on a succession of crises. We can expect that the EU will continue to develop, even in the current circumstances, and that it will remain the driving force of Europe as a whole – thanks in no small part to the German government, which works tirelessly for a solid future for Europe; secondly, it is in Switzerland's interest for the EU to recover from its crisis and to regain its ability to take action; and thirdly, it is in the interest of all of us to secure Swiss-EU relations that are stable and well-governed, thereby contributing to stability in Europe as a whole. There are enough other crises around us!

A characteristic of Switzerland's European policy is that it is guided by decisions taken by the Swiss people. In our quest for solutions with the EU, two important concerns of the Swiss population are paramount: better control of migration and consolidating and modernizing the bilateral approach.

In order to boost the chances of finding effective solutions, the Federal Council decided to bundle together all of the pending EU dossiers. As new chief negotiator, State Secretary Jacques de Watteville is charged with ensuring an overall outcome of negotiations that corresponds to the objectives set out in the existing mandates. He is supported in this difficult task by a negotiation and coordination team and by the Directorate for European Affairs.

We are all aware that little time remains to implement the new constitutional provision on immigration in domestic and foreign policy. Innovative approaches, dialogue and cooperation are needed – also and especially with our neighbours.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The second major task of Swiss foreign policy is our engagement for peace and security. In this area Switzerland is already very active, making use of innovative tools, but we need to and indeed want to do still more. Here too our partnership with Germany plays an important role.

The reason for an increased commitment is simple: the world has seen a rise in instability. Today we are confronted with numerous crises. The demands placed on diplomacy and the international humanitarian system have rarely been so high. We have to adjust to the fact that a state of crisis has become the new normal.

Europe’s neighbourhood in particular is characterised by instability. The south is marked by war, geopolitical friction, failed states and jihadist terrorism. To the east, there is great uncertainty as to how the Ukraine crisis will unfold. As Russia turns its back on the West, European security is in deep crisis.

The effects of conflict, poor governance and meagre prospects in Europe's immediate neighbourhood impact mainly on the people living in those countries. And yet the effects are being increasingly felt inside Europe too.

Take for example the large and rising numbers of refugees and migrants and all of the human tragedy and difficult political questions that go with that. Or the dangers of radicalisation and terrorist attacks within our societies.

Our citizens are entitled to expect that Swiss foreign policy plays its part in tackling such issues. Conflict prevention and crisis management are becoming an increasingly important part of Swiss foreign policy.

In this regard our commitment to peace and security must not be limited to short-term crisis management. Creating stability also requires us to tackle the structural challenges, securing a rules-based international order and good prospects for the next generation.
Our commitment to peace and security therefore grounds on two pillars:  crisis management and shaping globalisation. Both are difficult tasks in our multipolar world. The last few weeks have shown however that with dialogue and perseverance viable political solutions can also be found in key international issues. I am thinking of the nuclear agreement with Iran, in which Germany was a major contributor and Switzerland also played its part. Or the new, comprehensive and ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With its experience and expertise, its credibility and its extensive network of representations abroad, Switzerland is well placed to build bridges and make a useful contribution to a more peaceful world. All the more so as our commitment enjoys broad support within Switzerland. According to the latest annual survey conducted by the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, around 80% of those questioned agreed that Switzerland should mediate more in conflicts and play a more active role in international conferences. More than two thirds said Switzerland should be fully engaged in development assistance.

Our citizens are aware that the safer our neighbourhood is, the better it is for Switzerland. They support our commitment because they see that this aspect of Swiss foreign policy is people-oriented too. The inner strengths of our country are also key elements of our foreign policy. We are committed to dialogue and a culture of compromise, to political and social participation, democracy and the curbing of the mighty by the law.
And we are committed to living our humanitarian tradition. The two Swiss Humanitarian Aid convoys which in recent months were the first of their size to cross the contact line in Ukraine are symbolic of Switzerland's humanitarian tradition and solidarity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

So what should our commitment to peace and security look like in the future? The FDFA is generally well prepared in this regard. The rapid pace of global change requires us to constantly adapt our actions, however.

Let me make five points on this:

One, human security has proven to be a valuable guiding principle for our actions. Every human being should be able to live without fear. The toolkit built up by Switzerland over the past 15 years to promote peace and human rights is a great asset.
Our good offices are being appreciated – something I experienced once again last week in Havana during talks with the foreign ministers of Cuba and the United States. But as the nature of conflicts is changing, so too must our toolkit be constantly updated. It is our intention to expand in particular our mediation capacity with more specialists and more mediation diplomats. In this regard we are seeking to develop a partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office.

Two, the relationship between development and peace and security is becoming increasingly important – we have to take this nexus into account.
The new UN development agenda for the first time includes a goal for peace and inclusive societies. We anticipated this trend and helped shape it, for example with the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development and with our contribution to the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States of 2011. Half of all partner countries of Swiss development cooperation are fragile states. In these contexts addressing the causes of conflict and strengthening crisis resistance are called for in addition to combating poverty.
With the nexus between development and peace growing in importance, our different units are required to work even more closely together and make sure their activities complement each other. We want to reinforce this complementarity by submitting to Parliament next year for the first time a joint dispatch for the different framework credits of international cooperation.

Three, we will continue our commitment to tackle transnational threats – often referred to as new threats – such as terrorism and cyber attacks, and at the same time take into account that conventional challenges to international security are becoming more virulent again in our multipolar world. Security through cooperation remains a key guiding principle, and our soft security expertise will be in demand to address classical hard power challenges too.
Europe’s security order will continue to be of concern to us for some time to come. We want to remain engaged with the OSCE beyond our Troika membership, contributing good ideas, not least within the DACHLI framework. As regards Ukraine, we are complementing our OSCE activities with more bilateral activities on the basis of our new four-year cooperation strategy. Switzerland will also aim to promote cooperative security in other world regions – especially in East Asia. In addition we want to continue our commitment to arms control and disarmament.

Four, Switzerland is contributing to peace and security through its commitment to multilateral norms, the strengthening of international law and effective international organisations. For example, we will continue to work with the ICRC on a new mechanism to ensure better compliance with international humanitarian law. A priority for the coming years will be Switzerland's candidature for the UN Security Council. Lastly, International Geneva remains a key pillar of our commitment to peace and security. Currently, we are working to ensure that Geneva is chosen as the location for the secretariat of the Arms Trade Treaty. We will also continue to provide our active support to the UN in its search for solutions in conflicts such as in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Five, and finally, cross-cutting themes are assuming ever greater importance, and thereby coordination. With the new guidelines on water and security our different units are working together to make water less of a cause of conflict and more of a driver for cooperation and development. A concept is also being developed for a department-wide approach to preventing and countering violent extremism – another key focus area. In this area Switzerland has innovative tools at its disposal, including promoting dual vocational education and training and in the field of religion-politics-conflict. I see the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund in Geneva as having a major role to play in combating the causes of terrorism.

The combined use of various instruments is also essential in migration foreign policy. Partnerships on migration are an important approach. We have to see what more we can do in transit states and countries of origin. One thing that is clear to me is that in cases such as Eritrea we only can bring about a change in behaviour of the government if we adopt a coordinated approach with other concerned states – in this case for instance Norway, the Netherlands and – again – Germany.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Switzerland and the world face major challenges. As staff of the FDFA, your work contributes to meeting those challenges. Diplomacy is more necessary today than ever before. It is an opportunity. Your work, dear colleagues, is useful and important. In fact it is indispensable.
The values underpinning Swiss diplomacy are its strengths: we promote dialogue and listen to all sides (including our own population). We do not succumb to defeatism but try to overcome barriers with innovative solutions.

I count on your passion to constantly adapt to the rapid changes in our environment. To act with individual responsibility and creative drive. To acquire the skills to respond to the needs that face us today and tomorrow.

It falls to us to provide you with the working framework you need to achieve that. With regard to human resources policy, we should for example examine to what extent we can and want to propose more careers based on one specific theme – not only in the field of mediation, but also in areas such as law, finance or development cooperation. We must also continue to look into viable solutions for accompanying persons.

It is also important that we think in a more businesslike manner. The Federal Council has adopted a package of savings measures for 2016 and announced a stabilisation programme for the following years. The FDFA will have to play its part in contributing to these cost-cutting measures. I ask you to contribute on your own initiative wherever you can, optimising processes, making use of synergies and reducing costs – such initiatives are also part of a people-oriented foreign policy.

It is important to me lastly that we all act as part of one foreign policy. Coordination and cooperation instead of operating in silos. By boosting integration both in the representations and at the head office, we strengthen coherence. Only concerted action can make Swiss foreign policy effective. This applies both internally and externally.

In this spirit I thank you all for your much appreciated cooperation and your commitment. And, dear Frank, I wish the close partnership that exists between Germany and Switzerland to remain that way for many years to come, for the benefit of our citizens, of Europe and a more peaceful world. It is especially at times like these, when crises are prevalent, rifts appear and there is a lack of mutual understanding, that diplomacy – true diplomacy, based on partnership and innovative thought – is our bridge to a better future.

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