Making policy despite the majority

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud
Political article
Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis wants to realign Swiss development cooperation. Alliance Sud's central concerns, such as Agenda 2030 and the role of civil society in the global South, are hardly mentioned.

Some two-thirds of Swiss citizens would like our country to increase its development spending. They view development cooperation as being in Switzerland's interests and contributing to world security. This is the conclusion reached in the recently published study "Sicherheit 2019" [Security 2019] conducted by the Military Academy and the Centre for Security Studies at ETH Zurich. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, even more than eighty percent of the population are in favour of expanding development cooperation.

The Federal Council, however, remains unimpressed by the enormous popular support for development cooperation. In the draft of the Dispatch on International Cooperation 2021-2024, it proposes that Switzerland spends just 0.45 per cent of its gross national product on official development assistance. While in 2016 this ratio reached 0.53 per cent, development cooperation has witnessed massive cuts since then, despite annual surpluses in the billions at the federal treasury.

Wealthy Switzerland currently spends a smaller proportion of its national income on development cooperation than the average for all EU countries. Excluding expenditure on asylum matters which, absurdly, can now also count as official development assistance, that proportion is expected to be a mere 0.4 per cent in the coming years.

But it is not just in financial matters that the draft dispatch on Switzerland's future international cooperation leaves much to be desired. It is superficial and sketchy also from a strategic standpoint. There is no clear commitment, for instance, that poverty alleviation and civil society empowerment should continue to be the principal goals of Switzerland's commitment. Poverty reduction remains a goal only in cases where it seems to serve migration policy ends.

The primary focus of development cooperation should instead be job creation and partnerships with private sector players. Crucially, there is no indication that this must be about decent work in a context of environmentally sustainable production methods. The draft dispatch offers no clarity as to the criteria to be met by private sector partners regarding human rights, environmental protection and fair taxation.

In replying to the consultation, Alliance Sud will argue for a dispatch that places the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at its core. Swiss development cooperation must help combat poverty and alleviate hardship. And more than ever it should support all civil society forces in partner countries that are standing up for social justice and environmental sustainability.