Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Swiss to vote on passport zone

Reuters offered this short summary on the upcoming vote in Switzerland:

ZURICH Swiss voters are expected to support joining the European Union's passport-free zone in a referendum on Sunday that will challenge Switzerland's reputation as an isolated fortress at the heart of the EU.
Membership of the "Schengen zone" would mean sharing border security and police information with surrounding EU countries, something supporters said would protect Switzerland, but critics said would undermine its sovereignty and centuries-old neutrality.
After France's rejection of the EU constitution, Swiss voters will give another glimpse of public feelings about the EU when they head to the polls for a regular referendum.
The government and industry favor Schengen and another treaty with the EU to coordinate asylum claims across Europe.
The EU countries that are part of Schengen pool information on wanted people, prompting fears that criminals listed by the zone's shared data bank might seek refuge in Switzerland.
"We can't allow the image of Switzerland to become that of a haven for rogues," said Damien Cottier, head of the Schengen support campaign at Economiesuisse.
But the nationalist Swiss People's Party, though part of the coalition government, has campaigned for a no vote, with a stress on Swiss independence that has resonated with some voters.

Friday, May 27, 2005

India to raise permanent UN seat with Swiss

Looks like the Swiss have become quite savy of knowing how to throw their weight around at the UN. This was in the Financial Express today:

GENEVA, MAY 27:  As part of its intensified efforts to garner support for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, India will raise the issue with Switzerland which has stuck to a neutral position and maintained that it will not endorse any candidacy as long as the modalities of the council’s enlargement were not settled.

President A P J Abdul Kalam, who is on a four-day state visit, will put forth India’s position during wide-ranging talks with his Swiss counterpart Verena Schmid who will also be hosting a banquet in his honour.

The focus will be on boosting Indo-Swiss trade ties which were "definitely below potential", secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, Shashi U Tripathi told accompanying Indian journalists. She said the two sides would discuss ways of strengthening cooperation in science and technology.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ogi promotes Sports for Peace in NYC

Seeking to reap the benefits of sports for peacebuilding, socio-economic development and health, a consortium of athletes, United Nations officials, government leaders and sports federations is meeting today at UN Headquarters in New York to adopt a policy declaration aimed at national governments around the world.

The International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace was established during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in an effort to combine sport and play programmes worldwide with development policy. 2005 was proclaimed the Year of Sport and Physical Education by the UN General Assembly.

The Group will make specific recommendations on how governments can incorporate Sport for Development initiatives into their policies and development assistant programmes, adopting a declaration of commitment to ensure that Sport for Development recommendations are reflected in national policies and receive government funding.

Participants in the day-long meeting will include Louise Fréchette, UN Deputy-Secretary-General; Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sport for Development and Peace; Stephen Owen, Canadian Minister of State for Sport and Dr. Dennis Bright, Minister of Youth and Sport of Sierra Leone.

The International Working Group is supported by the Governments of Switzerland, Canada and Norway, along with the UN Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) and the UN New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) chairs the initiative.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Foreign policy puts business before aid

I post this as some background information on the visit of State Secretary Michael Ambuehl visit to the U.N. and New York. Ambuehl will speak before the Security Council on Thursday. This article was published by Swissinfo.

Experts say the government new foreign policy strategy puts business interests before the traditional priorities of development aid and human rights.

Unveiling the new strategy this week, the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said the focus in future would be on strengthening ties with countries such as the United States.

Development aid spending is to be frozen at its current level of around 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product. Critics say this effectively means Switzerland has no intention of even trying to reach the United Nations' Millennium goal of increasing aid spending to 0.56 per cent of GDP by 2010.

The strategy also makes much of Swiss plans to forge bilateral free trade agreements with the US, China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa (see related item).

Calmy-Rey's state secretary Michael Ambühl was at pains to point out that this did not mean that Switzerland was cooling towards the European Union, with which it already has numerous bilateral agreements. He described the EU as the "priority" for Switzerland, while ties with the other countries were "complementary".


"I think it's a tightrope. On the one side, the government is trying to strengthen the economy, and on the other to keep focused on promoting human rights," said Daniele Ganser, of the Centre for Security Studies at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

He told swissinfo that the two objectives were not necessarily incompatible, provided economic policy was "intelligent and sustainable". Ganser added that this was why the government was keen to strengthen ties with the superpower, the US.

Fred Tanner at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy said Switzerland's relationship with the US was crucial if it was to have an influence in promoting human rights globally. "It will give Switzerland more say in determining how the Geneva Conventions are interpreted," he told swissinfo.

But what was missing from the strategy document was an affirmation of how important the EU is to Switzerland, said Tanner.

He added that ministers should have been "courageous" enough to mention the EU, even though they were understandably reluctant to do so just two weeks before a controversial vote on joining the Schengen/Dublin accords on police and asylum cooperation.

Trouble ahead

Tanner said the cabinet's decision to ignore recommendations on increasing development aid was also storing up trouble for the future. "This is a serious development because Switzerland repeated to the UN general assembly in New York that it would try to reach the Millennium goals."

Daniele Ganser says a freeze in aid spending was to be expected given that the government was engaged in a massive round of spending cuts.

"The cuts affect all areas, including the army, so it's no surprise that there is no more money for development aid."

Nevertheless, Ganser said he hoped the issue might be revisited. "If Switzerland, as one of world's richest countries, doesn't stick to its own goals, it's going to be difficult to convince other countries to do so."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Klinsmann Names Swiss Chief Scout

CNN reports the follwoing today:

MUNICH, Germany -- Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann has finalized his backroom staff for the 2006 World Cup with the appointment of Swiss Urs Siegenthaler as chief scout.

The details of Siegenthaler's deal have yet to be confirmed but the 58-year-old will only receive a contract from the host nation until the end of the finals.

He was a member of the coaching staff with the Swiss national team from 1986 to 1988 and has been involved in training coaches in Switzerland for 20 years.

Siegenthaler, a relative unknown, played with Swiss sides Basel, Young Boys Bern and Neuchatel from 1963-1982.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Surprising Transparency on Swiss Gold Sales

Read this whole interesting article on Resource Investor.

By Tim Wood
12 May 2005 at 03:22 PM EDT

NEW YORK (ResourceInvestor.com) -- A frank speech in by Dr Philipp M Hildebrand of the Swiss National Bank has taken the lid off the country’s controversial disposal of 1,290 tonnes of gold at the turn of the century.

Hildebrand addressed the Institute for International Economics on May 5 in Washington, D.C. on the largest financial transaction in the SNB’s history.

A bullion expert consulted by Resource Investor described the speech as “amazing after-the-event transparency.” He also noted that followers of the gold price suppression conspiracy would be delighted at the timing and structure of the sales which contributed to lows in the gold price.

The expert said that whilst it was clear from the SNB’s Annual Reports that it had used options for its gold sales, it “will be news to almost all.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Swiss Muslims’ Bridge of Communication Hailed

This can be found on Islam Online (click on headline of this posting to go there. The article is by
Tamer Abul Einein, IOL Correspondent

GENEVA, May 11, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – Swiss Muslim activists and parliamentarians hailed the establishment of a new Islamic group, “the Swiss-Islamic World Organization”, as a bridge to solidify ties between Switzerland and the Muslim world and a counterweight to rising campaigns of hatred and stereotype against the Swiss Muslims.

“Promoting ties between the Muslim minority in Switzerland and parties playing an influential role in Swiss policies, such as Muslim countries, should be linked through influential groupings, not only through individual efforts,” Daniel Vischer, a Swiss MP of the Greens Party and co-founder of the organization, told IslamOnline.net Wednesday, May 11.

The Swiss-Islamic World Organization was established Monday, May 9, in Zurich with the ultimate goal of enhancing ties between the Muslim minority in Switzerland and the Swiss parties interested in developing cooperation with the Islamic world such as politicians, economists and research bodies.

“The Swiss Muslims have become part and parcel of Swiss society and have played important role in promoting ties with the Islamic world due to their different cultural backgrounds,” Vischer said.

The Swiss MP, a staunch supporter of Arab issues, stressed that Swiss Muslims are no longer seen as immigrants in European country. “They [Muslims] are integrated in Swiss society, which requires measures to preserve their rights, not sideline them on the issues of their interest.”

Islam is the second religion in Switzerland after Christianity. The country is home to 330,000 Muslims representing a sizable 4.5 percent of the country’s some eight million people.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Switzerland in the Spotlight at Washington’s Top Spring Event

Washington, DC, May 2, 2005 – Switzerland will be this year’s honorary country for the 66th annual Flower Mart on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral May 6 and 7. The family-centered outdoor festival that raises money for the gardens of the National Cathedral attracts twenty thousand visitors and celebrates a different country each year. Switzerland is the only country to have been selected twice for this honor in the last decade, having served in the role the last time in 1996. The wife of Switzerland’s Ambassador to the United States, Mrs. Susanne Blickenstorfer, is serving as honorary chairwoman and will open this year’s event.

“Susanne and I are delighted by the opportunity to present a glimpse of both traditional and modern Switzerland at Washington’s premiere springtime festival,” commented Ambassador Christian Blickenstorfer. “The National Cathedral neighborhood is our home away from home since the Embassy and the residence have been located there for over fifty years, and we are looking forward to greeting friends from the neighborhood as well as meeting new friends from the greater Washington, D.C. area.”

Along with the regular offerings of the Flower Mart, the Swiss Embassy will have an official tent and host a number of attractions featuring Swiss culture, music, art performances, food, entertainment, and flowers. Specific Swiss attractions include a cheese making demonstration with a fondue tasting out of a giant fondue pot, the performance artists of the renowned Swiss “Teatro Dimitri,” short films and lectures on Switzerland, and a chance to win over 200 exciting prizes at the Embassy Tent. There are also activities geared toward children including a craft area and a special cow waiting to be milked. In addition, a variety of plants, herbs, flowers, antiques and other crafts will be on display and for sale at the Flower Mart, along with a climbing wall, moon bounce, and antique carousel for the enjoyment of children of all ages.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Swiss Policies And Turkish Views Differ

Under the headline "Switzerland: An ignorant approach" the website Turks.US the following article appeared. It is, of course, very biased, but addresses a sensitive issue.

Following Turkish History Organization President Professor Halacoglu's insistent and public rejection of Armenian genocide claims, Switzerland has issued an order for the professor's arrest, and has trying to have Interpol prepare a "red bulletin" for arrest in his name.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul issed a sharp response to the decision by Zurich Canton and some European parliaments to "forbid rejection of the Armenian genocide." Gul, speaking to Hurriyet, said that Europe making a "terrible mistake" and that if they did not realize this, Turkey would "show them their error by revealing the truth." Gul said that he thought Europe was trampling on its own foundations by issuing such decisions, and then queried "Isn't freedom of expression one of the cornerstones of Europe?" FM Gul also said that the decision taken by the Zurich Canton was anathema to the European Agreement on Human Rights.

Not a court-backed decision

Of the moves across Europe to ban outward rejection of the so-called Armenian genocide, Gul said further "There is nothing that has been proven. This is not a court decision. It is a politically motivated decision. How can you arrest a scientist (Professor Halacoglu) for something he is saying?"

FM Gul went on to condemn the poltics of Armenian backed lobbies in European parliaments across the EU.