In her opening address, State Secretary and Head of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch underscored the significance of stability, democracy and economic growth. "This triad is reflected in all Swiss foreign policy activities in these countries", noted Ms Ineichen-Fleisch.
The goal, she explained, is to foster the transition to a market economy and a political system based on democratic values. "The same basic principle applies everywhere and always: Switzerland's approach to offering support is needs-oriented and based on cooperation. We also place great emphasis on the sustainability of the assistance we provide."
In Georgia, for example, Switzerland is helping to strengthen agricultural value chains and working to ensure that smallholder farmers are better integrated. As a result, 19,000 farmers increased their productivity by 15% in 2013, boosting their income by 10%. This also led to the creation of 143 jobs in rural areas.
Thanks to Switzerland's support, legislation was passed in Ukraine to make it significantly easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to be connected to the power grid, resulting in savings of more than CHF 5 million in 2013 alone for the companies concerned. Furthermore, the adaptation of Ukrainian inspection procedures to European standards, which was undertaken with Swiss support, enabled poultry producers to export to the EU for the first time, generating additional income of CHF 60 million.
In view of the current situation in Ukraine, however, all on-going projects have been reviewed for potential risks and operational consequences, noted Guido Beltrani, head of the Swiss cooperation office in Ukraine. Where necessary, the implementation of the projects has been adjusted and preventive measures have been taken. Project activities in Crimea have been suspended. In eastern Ukraine, no Swiss projects are currently affected by the difficult security situation. But the situation on the ground remains volatile and is being reviewed on an ongoing basis.
Switzerland's commitment is all the more important in times of instability, fragility and uncertainty, emphasised Martin Dahinden, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), in his closing speech. "Helping people in their reform efforts even in difficult periods is an important fundamental principle for us. We also firmly believe that a society is sustained from below, which is why we are committed to strengthening civil society, local authorities and good governance." It is, amongst other things, this sustained and full commitment that makes Switzerland a very reliable and credible partner, added Mr Dahinden.
With the new international cooperation strategy for 2013-2016, Switzerland has made a conscious decision to step up its commitment in fragile contexts. Transition cooperation also makes a significant contribution to the resolution of conflicts and the stabilisation of fragile contexts. This decision, explained Dahinden, was made in the knowledge that the best time to lay the foundations for a better future is when the challenges seem to be biggest and most pressing.
This year's Annual Conference on Swiss Cooperation with Eastern Europe drew 750 participants from all over Switzerland. Besides the conference proper, visitors were also given the opportunity to meet programme officers from the South Caucasus and Ukraine at the "Petit Marché" exhibition and to taste agricultural products produced in projects supported by Switzerland.
Stefan von Below
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