Speech – Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit Forum

Lugano, 24.08.2021 - Speech by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis on the occasion of the Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit Forum, organised in Lugano by the Università della Svizzera italiana. The speech was given in English. Check against delivery.

His Excellency, minister Sayyid Badr Al-busaidi,
Egregio rettore dell’Università della Svizzera italiana, Signor Erez
Care e cari partecipanti, chères et chers participants, dear participants,
and to those who are following us on streaming,

On behalf of the Swiss Confederation I welcome you to the fourth edition of the Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit. I am particularly happy to address you again from the city of Lugano. The city where I was born and where I grew up.

We have all been going through very special times. Personal contacts have been reduced to a minimum, exchanges were shifted to the virtual space. Last year’s MEM Summer Summit was no different. And it was still a great success! Nevertheless, it feels good to reconnect and exchange in person.

Focus on Exchange and Young people
Exchange is at the very heart of the MEM Summer Summit. This year, again over 100 young change makers from the region of the Middle East and North Africa have been selected to participate in the Summit – with around 30 of you being in Lugano here today.

Now, more than ever, such platforms are essential. The MENA region is changing fast and the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought further challenges. We have seen some positive signs of cooperation and empathy among actors in the region, while tensions within and between countries still remain.

The MENA region is also characterized by its young and vibrant population – with around 45% of the population being below the age of 25. To me, this is synonymous with new beginnings and optimism. Your presence here today and your commitment is proof of that.

The Middle East and North Africa is a priority region for Switzerland, owing to its geographical proximity and geopolitical significance. We share a strong historical and cultural heritage. Some of the countries in the region are key trading partners for Switzerland. During the past twelve months, I have personally visited no less than eight MENA countries in an official capacity: Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, the United Arab Emirates and of course, Oman. And I intend to continue on this path.

Supporting the needs of young people like yourselves in the region, is a clear priority for Switzerland.
To achieve that, it is important for us to consider multiple factors, such as addressing inequalities as well as supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of the region.

In October last year, the Federal Council launched its first Strategy on the Middle East and North Africa. Indeed we have brought copies of this strategy with us in French, German, Italian, English and Arabic. You are welcome to help yourselves or for those following us online, to download it from the Ministry’s website. 

This strategy is the first in a series of regional strategies through which we want to achieve coherence, effectiveness and transparency in our foreign policy. The strategy highlights both Switzerland’s’ interests in the region as well as Swiss values.
The MENA region is very heterogeneous and characterized by great diversity. It is affected by long-term conflicts and at the same time displays a significant potential for economic development and innovation. Switzerland’s approach takes these diverse facets into account. 

Fostering peace, security and prosperity are at the hearth of Switzerland’s commitment to the region. With the help of new technologies and digitization, we aim to find sustainable solutions that benefit the environment, the economy and society at large. Finally, the strategy is also based on one simple tenet: when the MENA region thrives, so does Europe.

Future goals and partnerships
10 months after the release of the MENA strategy, we’re on a good path regarding its implementation. And together with our representations in the region, we aim to continue the work on its five focus areas: Peace, security and human rights; Migration and protection of people in need; Sustainable development; Economic affairs, finance and science as well as Digitalization and new technologies.

To achieve these goals, we have to count on our partners in the region. I am particularly honored to welcome today my Omani counterpart, H.E. Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi, here in Lugano on his first visit to Europe as Minister of Foreign affairs. The Sultanate of Oman is a very trusted partner of Switzerland. Our countries have a lot in common - both in our traditions of neutrality as well as in the role we play as bridge builders in peace diplomacy.
During my visit to Oman in spring, I enjoyed the hospitality of this wonderful country and it was during that visit that the idea to come together in Lugano was born. In Oman, I had the chance to meet motivated young men and women. This conversation particularly inspired me. It was great to see how engaged they are for their country.

I am convinced that it is with and for the benefit of future generations - both in the MENA region and in Switzerland – that solutions for tomorrow can be found.
In that sense I would like to thank the Università della Svizzera Italiana for organizing the Summit and for hosting us in Lugano. I am proud that the Italian speaking part of Switzerland is once again a privileged place of exchange among young people.
Grazie a voi tutte e tutti, for your contributions and for making this exchange possible.

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