Athens, 04.11.2022 – Address by President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA, Ignazio Cassis
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be in Athens today and I thank the Trilateral Commission for the invitation.
We live in challenging times.
Since the beginning of the pandemic – and especially since Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine – we have been dealing with overlapping crises in Europe.
Against this backdrop, I value the Trilateral Commission as a platform for dialogue.
We share values such as the rule of law, democracy and human rights, which are more important than ever in the current situation.
Switzerland and Greece have much in common – and have had for a long time.
Switzerland is very proud of its philhellenic tradition: 200 years ago, people from Switzerland fought alongside the people of Greece in the struggle for independence. Others, like the Genevan banker Jean-Gabriel Eynard, supported Greece politically and financially.
Conversely, Switzerland also owes much to Greece. Before and during the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Ioannis Capodistria, a native of Corfu, successfully campaigned in the service of Tsar Alexander I for the internal reorganisation of the Swiss Confederation and for international recognition of Swiss neutrality.
Today, over 17000 Greek citizens live in Switzerland and contribute to the success of our economy.
Because of Greece’s geographic location, cooperation between our countries on migration is also of great importance. In mid-July, we concluded negotiations on an agreement to implement the migration framework credit of 40 million euros, which was then signed in mid-October.
We also enjoy very good economic relations. Switzerland is the fourth largest foreign investor in Greece and we are confident that there is potential to build on these economic exchanges.
In addition to contacts with EU member states such as Greece, relations with the European Union are of central importance for Switzerland. The Swiss government’s declared goal is to stabilise and further develop the bilateral path with the EU that has proven its worth for both sides.
Against this backdrop, we are currently holding intensive exploratory talks with the European Commission to finally find a solution.
Due to our history, relations with the EU have long been a sticking point in Swiss politics.
However, what is today far more important are our shared values and numerous aligned interests. We are shaping together the future of Europe and its importance in the new geopolitics of the world.
Ladies and gentleman
The challenges facing the global community are many: security, energy supply, inflation, refugee movements, climate change, just to mention a few. We are truly living in a watershed era.
But every crisis is also an opportunity. Winston Churchill once said – and I am in no way being cynical: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
Therefore, allow me to pick out three questions from the long ‘to do’ list which, in my view, are of great importance. These questions also seem to me to be key to resolving the current three challenges:
First: How can good prospects be created for Ukraine and its people?
Second: How can multilateralism be made to work successfully?
And third: How can we manage to act with foresight instead of fixing problems after they’ve happened.
On the first point. I was in Kyiv two weeks ago and saw for myself that, in addition to the already heavy burdens of war, more are continuously being added as a result of Russian aggression. Even if there is no end in sight to the war today, it would be unforgivable to wait until such time, before launching a recovery process. The people of Ukraine, just like the many refugees from Ukraine, deserve a perspective that offers hope.
But my discussions in Ukraine showed that many aspects of the recovery process still need to be clarified – we need clarity:
• What form will international coordination take?
• What governance structure will drive the process?
• What funding sources are available and which financial mechanisms do we have at hand?
… to mention just a few.
The G7 and EU Conference in Berlin last week made an essential contribution in this regard, analysing how such processes have been handled in the past and scouring the literature for evidence of effectiveness in reconstruction.
By the end of the year we should have a coordination platform for the recovery process. The EU is predestined to play this role, as Ukraine is now a candidate for membership. Switzerland is available to support this work.
Together with Ukraine, we are proud to have kick-started this process in Lugano in the summer. There we drew up a document that provides the framework for the political process of recovery. The seven Lugano Principles form the core of that declaration. They state that Ukraine has the lead in steering the process. But they also state that reforms must be part of recovery. We have to build back better.
A process has been set in motion that will bear fruit when the weapons fall silent – hopefully in the not too distant future!
The second topic is about multilateralism.
Until recently, the prospect of war on this scale on European soil against a sovereign country, against fundamental civil liberties and humanity, seemed almost impossible.
In Western Europe, we thought that the force of law had definitively won out over the law of force. In the meantime we have realised: we were wrong.
Therefore, we have to run for cover. The targeted strengthening of multilateralism, the return to core tasks, would put us back on the path to a better future together.
In 2023 and 2024, Switzerland will hold a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
During this time, we need to understand how to refocus the activities of the various Onusian agencies on their core objectives. In order to ensure peace and security.
My third point concerns foresight.
The international community must act with foresight in order to preserve its ability to strengthen its power to shape the future. That is why, in 2019, the Swiss Government launched the foundation “Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA)”.
Its task is to identify and harness the opportunities and challenges presented by new technologies.
GESDA seeks to identify concrete and effective solutions by leveraging the anticipative power of science and by promoting evidence-based discussions between science and diplomacy.
It serves as a tool at the disposal to the actors of global governance, everywhere in the world. This tool aims to reinvigorate multilateralism.
It focuses global governance on the key challenges of our time, develop ways of ensuring convergence and establishing a shared sense of purpose.
So, these were the three points I wanted to share with you.
Ladies and gentlemen
The French deputy Jean Jaurès once declared that “The greatest people are those, who can give hope to others”. Leading figures from the fields of religion and culture can do this best.
But we politicians – at all levels – are also called on to act – especially in times like these.
Simple solutions to complex problems just do not exist. Forget these fantasies!
But the chances of finding better answers are greater when we work together!
In closing, let me thank the Trilateral Commission for bringing us together and for providing us with this opportunity to exchange ideas.
Thank you so much!