International Law Day 2019: FDFA Directorate of International Law launches discussion on 'soft law'

Bern, 08.11.2019 - The FDFA Directorate of International Law (DIL) held its annual International Law Day on 8 November. This year’s event focused on soft law. The event provided an opportunity to discuss this topical issue in the presence of Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and a broad audience, and in particular to consider how to better involve Parliament in soft law matters.

Each year, the DIL organises an event focusing on a topical issue in international law. This year's event addressed 'soft law', which has attracted interest in Switzerland since the debate surrounding the UN Global Compact for Migration last autumn, and which has led to a broader discussion on the participation of the Swiss Parliament in certain foreign policy matters.

What does the concept of 'soft law' encompass? The Federal Council discussed the definition of soft law in its report of 26 June 2019.The report distinguishes soft law both from the main body of international law and from declarations that serve merely to set out general political intentions. Soft law rules are not legally binding, but do have a degree of normative force. The Federal Council also noted that soft law is an increasingly important instrument for shaping international relations. It proposed ways to ensure that Parliament can participate more effectively while respecting the separation of powers stipulated by the Federal Constitution and preserving Switzerland's capacity for action in matters of foreign affairs.

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis welcomed the participants and the public to International Law Day. His opening speech stressed the need to continue to promote respect for the rule of law and international law, which are the key to peaceful coexistence between states and which are at the heart of the principles defended by Switzerland. He reminded those present that for our country, foreign affairs and domestic matters are closely intertwined, and that it is often at the meeting point between domestic and foreign policy that soft law comes into play.

The event's subsequent panel debates involving government advisers, a journalist, senior representatives of the Federal Administration and the OECD and professors of international law reflected the national debate on the issue of soft law. The participants also highlighted the various opportunities presented by soft law, which allow the international order to continue to develop on the basis of intergovernmental consensus.

The DIL International Law Day ended on a positive note, and with the statement that soft law is integral to the way in which states conduct their international relations. It deserves to be better understood and explained, and the current debate and reflections are a major step in this direction. Furthermore, the debate must continue regarding how better to anchor the development of soft law within Switzerland's democracy. 

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