«Typically Swiss compromise» would be disastrous

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud
Article as analysis
In the Swiss Federal Administration, there is discord over which body should take the lead on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. There is an urgent need to assign responsibility at a very senior level, and for powers clearly defined.

Putting the world on a path of justice and environmental sustainability. With this ambitious goal in mind, the international community signed a common plan in September 2015 – the 2030 Agenda with its 17 goals for global sustainable development. Its aim is, by 2030, to bring about an environmentally and socially sustainable world in peace, stability, security and well-being.

Switzerland contributed appreciably to the successful conclusion of the negotiations. As a small country that is highly networked worldwide, Switzerland has a major interest in a stable and sustainable global environment. A prosperous and peaceful world is not only consistent with our humanitarian tradition but is also to some extent accommodative of Swiss enterprises with international operations. But there are growing signs of reluctance in the upper echelons of the Swiss Federal Administration to give the implementation of the 2030 Agenda the political weight that it truly deserves.

In July this year, Switzerland will report to the meeting of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in New York on its progress so far on the 2030 Agenda. By that time the Federal Council must have decided who in the Swiss Federal Administration will bear overall responsibility for implementing the 2030 Agenda in Swiss domestic and foreign policies. By anchoring it at a very senior level – for example with a delegate reporting directly to the Federal Council – Switzerland could send an important signal of its determination to play a leading role in the international arena with respect to sustainable development.

Other countries have already set a good example. They have assigned responsibility for the 2030 Agenda to their Chancellery, to a minister or a government delegate – in other words, to an office directly linked to the government and competent to hold departments from various ministries to account. This is important as the 2030 Agenda concerns all areas of a country's policies and its implementation calls for a coordinated, cross-departmental approach.

In the Swiss Federal Administration, in contrast, there is discord over which body should take the lead on the 2030 Agenda. Top-ranking officers in some departments are well and truly irked by the prospect that coordination could be imposed on them from above. Hence, there is the danger that strategic decision-making on the 2030 Agenda could be assigned to a conference of heads of various federal offices. The tasks of practical coordination would be in the hands of a joint inter-departmental working group.

With such a «typically Swiss compromise», all federal departments would ultimately bear a degree of responsibility for the 2030 Agenda – but no one would be really responsible. There would be no clearly identified contact person for the cantons or for civil society organizations and all the enterprises that would like to be partners in implementing the 2030 Agenda. They wish to see responsibility for the 2030 Agenda assigned at a very senior level, and powers clearly defined. The Federal Council does not have much time left to find a reasonable solution.

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud