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".

Tightrope

"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."

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