Methodical approach to strategy for greater foreign policy coherence (en)
Berna, 27.08.2021 - Budapest, 27.08.2021 – Discorso del Consigliere federale Ignazio Cassis alla Conferenza degli ambasciatori ungheresi – Fa stato la versione orale
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for inviting me to the conference. It's an honour to be here today and have the opportunity to say a few words about Switzerland's methodical approach to formulating foreign policy strategy.
The interest shown in our method indicates that we are all aspiring to the same goal: using a methodical approach to achieving greater coherence and raise the profile of our foreign policy in the international arena.
What are our actual foreign policy objectives? What can a small country like Switzerland hope to achieve on the big stage of global politics?
The Federal Constitution and individual federal laws do address what Switzerland stands for at home and abroad – what values are important to us.
For example, Article 2 of the Federal Constitution, which defines the goals of the Swiss Confederation. It is its duty to protect the freedom and rights of its citizens and to safeguard the independence and security of the country. It also promotes the cultural diversity of the country and strengthens national cohesion.
Then there is Article 54 of the Federal Constitution, which deals with relations with other countries. It defines that foreign relations are the responsibility of the Confederation. Its main goal in foreign relations is to ensure the independence of Switzerland and its welfare. It assists in the alleviation of need and poverty in the world and promotes respect for human rights and democracy. While doing so, the Confederation respects the independence of cantons and protects their autonomy.
It is precisely this political, linguistic and cultural independence of our regions that characterises Switzerland. Switzerland is strong as a country precisely because the individual regions are able to express their individuality.
As you can see – ladies and gentlemen – there are some mentions of foreign policy both in the Federal Constitution and at the legislative level, however none of them define a concrete foreign policy mandate.
However, foreign policy is in the interest of every country. Especially of small countries with little geopolitical power. If we want to protect our values, if we want to protect our prosperity and our security, we inevitably have to deal with our environment. Switzerland is part of a diverse world. A world that is becoming increasingly harsh, fragmented and, above all, unpredictable.
What will our world look like in ten years? What will our countries look like in ten years? No one knows. But it is important to think about such matters today – what trends might become even stronger in the future, and what consequences could this have for people and societies?
• Geopolitical tensions are growing and trade conflicts are escalating. The cornerstones of the international order, especially international law and multilateralism, are increasingly being called into question.
• Meanwhile, environmental changes are accelerating. Climate change is a global problem, exacerbating adverse environmental impacts and curbing the growth models currently pursued by industrialised countries.
• However, new technologies are bringing fresh opportunities. Digital technologies are already transforming economies and societies.
• Digitalisation and geopolitics are increasingly focused on trade and production.
• In many countries more and more people are also on a quest for identity, seeking to differentiate themselves from others. Migration has caused unease, with people in many countries protesting against the government. Citizens are losing trust in state institutions.
These trends are also evident in Switzerland. The prosperity and political stability of our country depend crucially on events affecting our geopolitical environment. Switzerland's 2028 Foreign Policy Vision – short AVIS28 – emerged against this backdrop.
AVIS28 is Switzerland's response to the challenges and opportunities presented by the key drivers of change. It shows us where we want to be by 2028. AVIS28 sets out Switzerland's vision in six key areas and serves as a basis for discussion on where Swiss foreign policy is heading.
• Clearly defined interests and priorities: we don't need to be active everywhere in the world, but we need to offer extra value where we are active.
• Foreign and domestic policy are closely intertwined: foreign policy is domestic policy. In order to be able to present a united front internationally, the foreign policy approach must be supported by domestic policy.
• Greater focus on citizens and the economy: services for Swiss citizens abroad and close cooperation with the private sector are important strengths of Swiss foreign policy. Foreign policy and trade policy can only work together.
• Swiss soft power for a more peaceful and stable world: Switzerland has a high level of credibility as a bridge builder. Our good offices and our commitment to the rule of law are valued just as much as our rapid and non-bureaucratic humanitarian aid or our development cooperation.
• Technology is an established pillar of Swiss foreign policy: Switzerland is a world leader in governance and research in the field of new technologies. While the risks associated with new technologies should not be underestimated, it is also important to take advantage of the new opportunities. International Geneva is a leading location for global governance in relation to digital transformation.
• Switzerland acts self-confidently with and vis-à-vis the EU: Switzerland is a European country both in cultural and geographical terms and defending its global interests must start with Europe. Relations with the EU are based on an optimal balance between far-reaching market access and the preservation of the greatest possible political autonomy.
In Switzerland, politics is not just a matter for government. It is people-driven. Of course foreign policy is inevitably developed at government level. But our foreign policy vision should not just involve a government document and long, bureaucratic rounds of negotiations. Instead, we wanted to encourage broad-based debate. We wanted a whole-of-Switzerland approach.
We therefore intentionally set up a multidisciplinary working group composed of FDFA staff and representatives from business, academia and civil society.
I won't go into the details of our foreign policy vision – we don't have time for that. But I've brought you some copies of AVIS28 and invite you to take a look.
The report has enhanced our understanding of the drivers of change and is a source of inspiration for hammering out our foreign policy strategies.
We subsequently developed Switzerland's foreign policy strategy, inspired by our Foreign Policy Vision, following a broad-based consultation process across government. This serves as a compass directing our diplomats as well as the Federal Administration in positioning Switzerland on the global stage.
The foreign policy strategy defines Switzerland's thematic and geographical priorities for the next four years. It is the mother of all our strategies, if you will. It is the guiding document and therefore stands at the top of our strategy cascade. Geographical und thematic follow-up strategies fleshing out key areas have since been adopted.
In recent months, for example, we have produced the MENA Strategy, Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy and China Strategy. We are currently working on a sub-strategy for the Americas, with strategies for Eurasia and South East Asia to follow.
We have also formulated an International Cooperation Strategy, Digital Foreign Policy Strategy and a Strategy for Communication Abroad that expand on the thematic priorities set. A follow-up strategy on arms control and disarmament is also in the pipeline.
These detailed follow-up strategies will enable us to set clear objectives and measures for thematic and geographical focus areas over the next four years. Some of these strategies have budget implications some don’t. The International Cooperation Strategy, for example, is the foundation on which we are able to spend 3.2 billion Swiss francs every year.
The third level of our cascading strategy involved key foreign policy documents to facilitate the FDFA's work, including the Guidelines on Human Rights and the OSCE Action Plan for 2025, which is now in preparation.
This three-tier cascading strategy achieves greater coherence in Swiss foreign policy and raises Switzerland's global profile. It is intended to help key partner countries, including Hungary, understand what Switzerland stands for, where its strengths lie, and where opportunities for sustainable cooperation may exist.
At the same time, our interdepartmental process facilitates broad-based national debate. Swiss foreign policy is therefore backed by the Swiss public, the majority of cantons, and Parliament, building a credible united front. It achieves consensus and more importantly – impact.
If we pause for a moment and look back at the last two years in which we have implemented our methodical approach in our foreign policy, we see significant improvements in three areas:
• Parliament: Political discussions on foreign policy issues have become much more evidence-based across all parties. The common understanding of our foreign policy goals and measures has been strengthened.
• Government: Transparency within the government has been increased – parliament knows what the government is doing. We talk about what we do and we do as we say. This also helps to align the different departments in their foreign policy. Something that is not God given in a country that does not have an actual head of state in the form of a president or prime minister.
• Diplomacy: And last but not least, our diplomats have a clear mandate, a clear goal and a clear path. Together, we share the responsibility for implementing our country's foreign policy.
Likewise, our partner countries benefit: they know Switzerland's goals in foreign policy, they know our strengths and our focus. This increases trust and promotes close and, above all, sustainable relations between Switzerland and its friends.
Being friends, by the way, does not mean that we all have to be the same. It is essential that we develop ways of working together based on shared values and interests.
Like Hungary and Switzerland: our two countries have maintained bilateral relations over many years. Today, Hungary is Switzerland's third largest trading partner in Central Europe.
In addition to trading more extensively, our two countries also engage in open dialogue focusing on shared European values – the rule of law, strengthening democratic structures, respect for human rights, freedom of expression, and pluralism.
Dialogue with citizens and parliamentary and cantonal involvement have been crucial in shaping a coherent Swiss foreign policy. Why not join us in leveraging your country's cultural variety to present a strong profile to the outside world?
I’m very keen on discussing with you the ways in which Hungary can find its own path in implementing this – for the country and for its people.
Thank you for your attention.
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