Article, Global

“Resignation is simply too boring”

21.03.2022, International cooperation

Andreas Missbach has been the new Director of Alliance Sud since January. The social scientist and avid mountain hiker has no fear of contact with the market and relishes attacks from political adversaries.

“Resignation is simply too boring”

© Daniel Rihs / Alliance Sud
Andreas Missbach

Apart from a floral bouquet, Andreas Missbach was all alone in his office on his first day at work on January 3rd, as his new Alliance Sud colleagues were still away on Christmas holidays or working from home because of the pandemic. He was familiar with the premises, however, having previously worked for Public Eye, and this made the lonely start easier. At the time of this interview – which was done at the beginning of February and thus three weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – small but subtle changes could be seen in his office, testifying to his dynamism. On the wall are black-and-white pictures by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, and a ceremonial certificate from the autonomous Government of Achacachi, which he recently visited in Bolivia.

Interview by Marco Fähndrich und Kathrin Spichiger

Andreas, you spent 20 years working for Public Eye in Zurich, you are now with Alliance Sud in Berne, what connects and distinguishes these two development organizations?

At Public Eye I have always collaborated very closely with colleagues from Alliance Sud, especially on matters such as finance and taxes. Public Eye no longer deals with the development cooperation policy, however, as Alliance Sud and its membership have been the undisputed centre of excellence of Swiss civil society for 50 years now.

Where would you like to set priorities at Alliance Sud in the future?

With respect to policy coherence and the main policy interfaces – for example, between trade and climate policy, where a border adjustment tax is being discussed; between climate policy and finance, where the private sector is being put forward as a vehicle for Swiss climate funding; between finance and international cooperation, where partnerships with enterprises are regarded as the new el Dorado, although at times, only some manage to make a fortune.

In 2009, the newspaper "NZZ am Sonntag" quoted you as saying that you were "a big fan of entrepreneurship and of the market. Enterprises, mainly small and medium-sized ones, create jobs, something that development aid rarely does". Should that be taken as support for the new pro-business approach of Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis?

I guess I mustn't have revised this quote carefully enough! – That was a Boris Johnson-style answer just now (laughs). The interview was about the World Economic Forum WEF: I stressed at the time that the economy included much more than the multinational corporations in Davos, and was also shaped by small enterprises, cooperatives and trade unions. And I am indeed a fan of the "market" where rural producers and urban consumers meet. Whether it is on the Federal Square in Berne, Zurich's Helvetiaplatz or in El Alto in Bolivia.

The pandemic has also hit the real economy in the Global South especially hard nevertheless...

The corona crisis clearly demonstrated that one should not put all one's eggs in the same basket, as the private sector is dependent on government support, and civil society undertakes key tasks as soon as the market fails. The local partners of Alliance Sud members were able to act rapidly to offer help when even people in work suddenly had no income.

About 20 years ago you wrote your thesis on the climate negotiations at the United Nations and focused specifically on the North-South conflict. What has changed in the meantime?

What is new, most notably, is that China is now a great power and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. It is alarming, however, that so little has changed over all these years. The crucial lines of conflict remain the same: the wrangling continues over how to implement the “common but differentiated responsibility” envisaged in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, especially the role of technology transfer and how climate financing should take account of polluters and victims.

The 2030 Agenda, which sets out the shared goals of all UN member countries, offers an answer. It is not really gathering momentum in Switzerland, however. Citizens are not familiar with it, and the Federal Administration is merely administering it. Where do you see the biggest problem in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals?

The 2030 Agenda is highly ambitious – it is like a concentrate of all the good ideas formulated but never implemented in the UN system over the past 50 years. This means, of course, that it also includes all the bad compromises, for example, it fails to address global economic power structures and the ambivalent role of the private sector. The problem is that everyone can now cherry-pick what they want. Unfortunately, however, the 2030 Agenda is not an "à la carte menu". As a world community we are facing enormous challenges and must transform the global economy comprehensively in a very short space of time.

Where does Switzerland have the most leverage for effective international action?

There is no single measure that could change everything, but if I had to choose, then it would be this: former South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel once said: "Development is a 3-letter word and it is spelled T – A – X". Through a fair tax policy, Switzerland could probably do the most to help enable the Global South to generate the resources for its own development. It must stop allowing corporations to accumulate their worldwide profits here.

What is your view of the repeated attacks from the centre-right on NGOs in Switzerland? Will they now be finally laid to rest following the rejection of the Noser Motion in Parliament?

That is hard to predict, but I am pleased anyway that we did come under attack, as it shows that we are being taken seriously as a political force. We proved this by garnering the majority of the popular vote for the Responsible Business Initiative. And by no means must we be intimidated in the future either. Civil society needs to provide a strong counterweight in politics and in business...

... which is repeatedly ignored, as shown by the lack of transparency on the part of Swiss banks and commodity traders regarding their credit relations with countries of the South. What gives you hope and motivation for your work?

I started becoming politicised more than 35 years ago at the time of the Latin American debt crisis, and it is of course frustrating that we are now on the verge of the next debt crisis and still have not found any mechanisms to ensure that citizens will not have to pay the price again. But resignation is simply too boring.

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