Speech on 1 August 2013 by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter - «Independence, cooperation, responsibility: the best way for Switzerland»

Bern, 31.07.2013 - 31 July 2013 - Riga, Latvia - Check against delivery

Distinguished Minister
Honourable members of the Saeima,
Ladies and gentlemen
Dear compatriots

«Striding out in the red glow of morning …». These are the opening words of the Swiss national anthem, which will be played in many parts of Switzerland tomorrow, the first of August.  The horse described by the famous Latvian writer Rainis is even «golden». This fairy tale was written in Castagnola in the Swiss Canton Ticino, a fine example of the affinity between our countries.

If I had to choose a colour that symbolises the close relation between Switzerland and Latvia, I would mix the Swiss red glow of morning and the Latvian gold. Red mixed with gold is orange, and this is the colour of the school buses that transport many schoolchildren from rural areas in Latvia to their schools. Switzerland helped to finance the purchase of these buses as part of its enlargement contribution in order to help Latvia to tackle the huge challenges that it faced after 1989, and as an investment in the future and in young people.

For many young Latvian children, the colour orange means access to education and to brighter prospects. Prospects that enable them to realize their dreams and build a common, peaceful future in Latvia, in Europe and in the world. Access to education is essential for these aspirations. I am delighted that Switzerland and Latvia together can make their contribution to the future of young people.
Dear Latvian guests. We are celebrating the Swiss National Day together with you today.

I am delighted that you are celebrating together with us because in doing so you are underlining the friendship that exists between our countries.

I would especially like to welcome the Swiss nationals living in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who are here today. They lend a certain Swiss note to this event, even though we are almost 1600 kilometers away from Switzerland. This afternoon in a conversation with my colleague Edgars Rinkeviks I was reminded once again of how close the links between our countries are.

The last time we met was in March, when Mr Rinkevics paid a working visit to Switzerland. At that time we came to the conclusion that relations between our two countries are excellent. We also agreed that we would like to intensify our relations in all areas, particularly in the area of business. Today's talks confirmed our joint interest in extending and in deepening our relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A distance of 1,600 kilometers is no obstacle to the formulation of common goals and to the task of working together to achieve them, while at the same time maintaining our autonomy. The importance of Latvia is underlined in the first line of the Latvian national anthem: “Dievs sveti Latviju” [„God Bless Latvia“]. In 1870 this was one of the first song texts to mention the word Latvia. This line soon came to be understood as a call for national independence. Several of the conferences that led to the first declaration of Latvian independence [the proclamation of the Latvian Republic: 18 November 1918], were held in Switzerland. And Latvian poet Janis Rainis  gave a powerful impetus to this movement by translating Schiller’s William Tell into Latvian…

Acting together, remaining independent: Like the Swiss nationals living in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania today, over 700,000 Swiss nationals are currently living in countries outside Switzerland and are experiencing this positive interaction. They have learnt to cope with their new surroundings. To do this, the qualities that they need are open-mindedness and the ability to adapt to new situations while continuing to cultivate their traditions and values. They exemplify values that are essential for Switzerland too. Openness and the ability to deal with new contexts and to act independently to defend one's own values and interests. In the global competition of the 21st-century this is particularly true for countries such as Latvia and Switzerland.

Openness and flexibility are vital, but so too are solidarity, responsibility and joint action. In a world that is globally interlinked and in which there are highly diverse relationships and interdependences between states and regions, it is not possible to tackle global challenges alone. Joint responsible action carried out in a spirit of solidarity is essential. We need only think of climate change, which does not stop at national borders, and migration issues, where measures taken by individual states are not really sustainable.
Solidarity and responsibility are also vital elements for security and stability. Switzerland is taking responsibility in these fields too. Next year it will assume the chairmanship in office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This is an opportunity to build bridges and to establish trust so that states can work together to peacefully resolve conflicts or ideally to prevent them from occurring at all.

Switzerland will be the first country to assume the chairmanship in office of the OSCE for the second time. This is a huge challenge because in many areas the interests of the member states diverge considerably. However I am convinced that Latvia will be a good and a reliable partner that together with the other OSCE participating states will help us to establish a security community for the benefit of all citizens.

Through its activity in the OSCE, and in particular its chairmanship in office in 2014, Switzerland can implement one of the main priorities of its own foreign policy: its commitment to security and stability in Europe and beyond. The parallel between independence and openness is also evident in the OSCE, where Switzerland defends its interests and values and works together in the community of states.

Switzerland has defined a number of focal points to which it attaches particular importance during its chairmanship in office. Here too there will be a strong emphasis on the needs of young people. The goal is not to introduce orange school buses throughout the OSCE regions... but we would like to see the concerns of young people, their needs and expectations, playing a more prominent role. This is why young people from all participating states are to come together in a “model OSCE” to discuss current issues in the fields of security, the economy, the environment and the human dimension. The aim is that they should present their conclusions and recommendations to the Council of Ministers in Basel in 2014.

Our ambition to include young people and civil society more strongly in the work of the OSCE reflects our conception of participation in political decisions. Here too, Switzerland has its characteristic and independent system in which every citizen - even if they are living in Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia - can take part in political discussions and can even initiate them.

In the Swiss system of direct democracy, the opinion of every individual counts. Together with all the other citizens they help to shape the country's future. Again and again, at the communal, cantonal and national levels, we find these parallels between independence and joint, responsible action, for the benefit of Switzerland.  Political co-determination, that is to say involvement in decision-making, is part of Switzerland's identity. It makes our country both stable and flexible: in a word, successful.

Independence, cooperation and responsibility are also central pillars of our foreign policy, as the above example of the OSCE shows. Another example is our activity in the Syria conflict, where together with other states, Switzerland advocates at the political level that the serious violations of international humanitarian law should be punished and where Switzerland contributes to relieve the distress of those who suffer most from the conflict. Indeed, more than a third of Syria’s population now depends upon humanitarian aid. This is the reason why Switzerland has so far spent about 50 million francs to improve the situation of the affected civilians, for example by giving cash support to 2’000 host families in north Lebanon that accommodate 15’000 refugees from Syria.

Ladies and gentlemen

This relationship between independence and joint action is also a central aspect of Switzerland's dealings with Europe. All states act for the benefit of the European continent as a whole, in which peace and security are guaranteed, in which welfare is promoted and democracy and the rule of law are securely established. Switzerland works actively on behalf of these values, for example in the Council of Europe.

This is why in Latvia we not only provide support for the orange school buses but have also helped to finance 11 youth centers. On top of this, we are making efforts to combat unemployment in Latvia by giving micro-credits to enable very small companies and persons working freelance to get a good start.

Solidarity and responsibility are values that are central to the way that Switzerland perceives itself as a European state. The support that it provides through the enlargement contribution is a specific example of this. Another central element is the structuring of our relations with the EU. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, and its relations with the EU are based on sectoral bilateral agreements. These agreements formed the basis of our cooperation in many areas, for example education and research (Latvian doctoral students can spend time in Switzerland as part of their research).

The bilateral path has given our companies access to certain sectors of the EU domestic market. The volume of Swiss trade with the German Bundesland Baden-Württemberg alone is greater than Switzerland‘s trade volume with the USA. This indicates how important it is for Switzerland and for the EU to ensure that this access to the respective domestic markets will be guaranteed in future. To ensure that the bilateral path will be sustainable in the long term, it will be necessary to jointly solve a number of institutional issues.

Jointly in this context means that we will engage in a dialogue with the EU to discuss possible approaches and to define solutions that guarantee Switzerland’s independence. For the Federal Council, maintaining our institutions, and in particular the rights of the people, are central elements of our European policy. The Federal Council has once again underlined this in its medium-term strategy for the consolidation and renewal of the bilateral path.

The people are the sovereign in Switzerland and must always have the last word about the development of our relations with the EU. This is essential to Switzerland’s independence. This is how it has been up to now and this is how it will remain. There will be no automatic procedures of any kind whatsoever. This is sovereign European policy in the true sense of the word.

In its dealings with the EU, Switzerland has chosen a different path from Latvia, which has been a member of the European Union since 2004. In this time Latvia has produced impressive results. It has coped impressively with the financial and economic crisis, its growth rate is one of the highest in the EU and from next year on it will be a member of the Euro zone.

As you see, different paths lead to the desired goal. In Latvia's case, the path is membership of the EU, in Switzerland‘s it is the bilateral route. What we have in common is that both countries attach great importance to independence and freedom.

It is no co-incidence that the Latvian author Janis Rainis whom I mentioned above spent many years of his exile in Castagnola, a village near Lake Lugano. This link between Lugano and Riga symbolises the common values that unite Switzerland and Latvia.

These values are also the basis of our shared understanding, particularly in the area of European policy. It is good to know that in Latvia we have a partner in Europe that understands us and on whom we can rely.

Ladies and gentlemen

As you see, Latvia and Switzerland have a great deal in common. Not only the colours mentioned above, the red glow of dawn and the golden horse.  Not only the fact that we both believe that we produce the best chocolate in the world. Here we are probably both right. Switzerland and Latvia are both strong ice hockey nations. Where we have Roger Federer, Latvia has Arturs Irbe, a sportsman who successfully embodies important qualities of our countries but has also made them widely known. Here too it is the correct proportion of individual abilities and teamwork that make a decisive contribution to success.

Our National Day is one on which we reflect on these values and can be proud of them. But these values cannot be taken for granted. We have to live these values and to fight for them so that people can live in peace, security and prosperity. So that our children can realize their dreams.
So that future prospects can be created. I am delighted that we have a close partner in Latvia in order to achieve these goals. And every orange school bus that we see on the streets of Latvia is a sign that we are gradually achieving this goal, together and independently.

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Last modification 05.01.2016

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