In the run-up to the by-election, the media spoke and wrote about (almost) everything except the future direction of Swiss development cooperation. Little is known about how Ignacio Cassis views development cooperation. The FDP (Liberals) politician from Ticino has not replied to an open letter with questions from Alliance Sud. Crucial decisions will have to be taken regarding the future orientation of Switzerland's position in the world.
Development is not without cost
The new Foreign Minister will barely have time to develop his own ideas about Switzerland's role in an unstable world. He will immediately have to start robustly defending his Ministry's budget. Those in Parliament and Government who pride themselves as financial policy hardliners do indeed want to spend more on national defence or agriculture, but favour ongoing, drastic cuts when it comes to Switzerland's international cooperation.
If Cassis takes the constitutional mission of international cooperation seriously – the alleviation of need and poverty (Article 54, Federal Constitution) — then from the first day on, he will have to resist the policy aspiration to utilize Switzerland's development cooperation funds also to pay for international climate protection, to promote economic diplomatic ties with China and to end the global refugee crisis.
Policy coherence for sustainable development
It is just as important for the new Foreign Minister to strongly support a coherent Swiss policy on sustainable development. The fact is that the development of poor countries is made substantially more difficult when multinational corporations operating in them violate human rights, degrade the environment and then shift their profits to low-tax havens like Switzerland. In the global South and in the North, sustainable development is also hampered by unfair trade and investment protection agreements that give more weight to economic interests than to human rights and environmental and climate protection.
Cassis should really be striving to ensure in future that across the Federal Council, every aspect of Swiss policy – not least of all policy on the financial centre and foreign economic policy, which are indeed close to his portfolio – are assessed for their impacts on sustainable development worldwide. This is called for in the UN 2030 Agenda approved two years ago with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Swiss diplomacy did much to help shape in the preparatory phases. In the middle of next year Switzerland will have to report to the UN on its progress in implementing this Agenda. So far, the Confederation's progress has been rather modest. Cassis can and must change this.
Caution in bringing the private sector on board
Caution should nevertheless be exercised where the 2030 Agenda advocates the use of public-private partnerships to further sustainable development. Joint ventures between government bodies and large private sector enterprises can make sense in cases where there is no danger of privatization of public goods such as education, health services or water supply systems. But they are no substitute for development cooperation work, which does not need to show a profit and is often aimed at the political empowerment of underprivileged population groups. Doubts should be raised as to whether the purposes of development are being better served by the trend, which can also be observed internationally, toward misusing official development funds to hedge the risks of private investors. It does after all carry inherent dangers that have not yet been sufficiently explored and therefore call for clear guidelines. Buon lavoro Signor Cassis!