Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Strengthening coherence also strengthens Swiss foreign policy

Today, almost all domestic policy issues have an international dimension. In a world with widening global imbalances, Switzerland must position itself clearly in order to protect its interests and values. With its 2020–23 foreign policy strategy, adopted by the Federal Council on 29 January, Switzerland has the means to steer its course effectively. State Secretary a.i. Krystyna Marty plays a key role in implementing the strategy. Interview.

18.02.2020
Krystyna Marty, EDA State Secretary a.i., is standing in front of the microphone during a speech.

State Secretary a.i. Krystyna Marty. © FDFA

State secretary, I'd like to begin by asking you this: why is a foreign policy strategy even necessary?

A foreign policy strategy is central to helping us orient ourselves better in an increasingly complex world. It enables us to set out our priorities and objectives in a deliberate way, and is key to maintaining a coherent foreign policy. Strengthening coherence also strengthens foreign policy.

The foreign policy strategy is not an FDFA document but a strategy of the Federal Council as a whole.

That is why already back in 2011 the Federal Council instructed the FDFA to prepare annual foreign policy reports giving an account of the year's activities, including a foreign policy strategy every four years. This means that there is a new foreign policy strategy for each legislative period. We are now on our third strategy. The foreign policy strategy is not an FDFA document but a strategy of the Federal Council as a whole. Additional thematic and regional strategies such as the international cooperation strategy and the strategies for the MENA region, Africa and China are based on this foreign policy strategy.

You have said that the foreign policy strategy isn't an FDFA strategy and that coherence is paramount. What does that mean exactly?

The head of the FDFA was keen to ensure that the new foreign policy strategy had broad-based support and be widely known throughout the Federal Administration. That's why it isn't just about traditional FDFA topics – good offices, peace promotion, or the UN for example. Instead, the strategy is intended to cover the entire breadth of foreign policy-related subjects from foreign economic policy, health and culture to science diplomacy. In order to reflect on this in a comprehensive way and incorporate the priorities of all the different departments, we launched a year-long interdepartmental process that involved all of the federal offices.

The strategy is intended to cover the entire breadth of foreign policy-related subjects, from foreign economic policy, health and culture, to science diplomacy.

The process was led by my predecessor, former state secretary Pascale Baeriswyl, to whom we would like to pay particular thanks for the broad-based strategy we have before us today.

Was there anything really new about this interdepartmental process?

In this particular form, yes. The previous foreign policy strategies for the 2012–15 and 2016–19 periods were also adopted by the Federal Council at the final stage. But the current strategy was developed using a structured and inclusive process, which is basically new.

Were you also able to include external stakeholders?

To a certain degree, yes. Even though the foreign policy strategy is a Federal Council strategy first and foremost. We had discussions with the Swiss Foreign Policy Society, foraus and staatslabor, for example. And our 'Meet the Ambassadors' project, which was carried out for the first time in summer 2019, also had a definite impact on the development of the strategy. In addition to the somewhat voluminous full version of the strategy, the FDFA has also published a shorter overview summarising the key points. This was done with the idea of encouraging dialogue at the national level.

What are the most important aspects of the strategy in your opinion?

I consider the four thematic focus areas to be key. They are peace and security, prosperity, sustainability and, now, digitalisation.

With regard to peace and security, Switzerland's candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council is key, as are its good offices. In terms of prosperity, we have adopted a comprehensive approach that ranges from combating extreme poverty to education and financial market stability.

The four key points are to be the thematic focus areas: peace and security, prosperity, sustainability and, now, digitalisation.

In the field of sustainability, the 2030 Agenda and greater climate and environmental protections are the main issues. And as for digitalisation, which has become a new area of foreign policy, the focus is on digital governance i.e. establishing ground rules at the international level. We also want to optimise protection of our interests and values in cyberspace and position Geneva as a global hub for digital foreign policy. Ultimately, what is important are the clear targets for the different world regions and the eight priority countries, greater cooperation with like-minded states, and a commitment to a strong external representation network.

Why is a strong external network so important? Aren't phone calls, emails and video conferencing enough for the government to maintain its contacts?

Switzerland is in a position to have an independent foreign policy. We can and want to avoid relying on alliances or groups of states to represent our interests. We have a well-positioned external representation network compared with other countries, and yes, that does come at a certain price. But it's worth it. We have reliable and well-established partners almost everywhere in the world, wherever Swiss government representatives and high-ranking officials go, but also for our businesses, artists, tourists and researchers. Good contacts need to be fostered and maintained, which includes having a presence in the host country. International relations aren't much different to private ones. And even modern means of communication alone aren't enough.

"There is only one Switzerland abroad" Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis has said on more than one occasion. How does the foreign policy strategy contribute to that idea?

The Swiss representations abroad should in future serve more as platforms in the sense of the 'one Switzerland' approach. Switzerland's highest-level representatives abroad are our ambassadors. Their goal is to highlight Switzerland's diversity and create direct added value for Swiss individuals. But if you want your appearance both in and towards other countries to be coherent, you also need some coordination back home. For the FDFA, this is one of its ongoing tasks – because in today's globalised world, foreign policy is becoming even more important and challenging. This undoubtedly enriches the work we do, and also makes it more rewarding.

The Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 is the third such strategy to have been adopted by the Federal Council

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) was instructed by the Federal Council to prepare a foreign policy strategy every four years back in 2011.

Since then, the FDFA has presented the strategy at the start of each new legislative period in order to determine Switzerland's priorities for the upcoming four years. The current strategy has been adopted by the Federal Council and is the first to have been developed using an interdepartmental process.

The Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 translates the objectives for the legislative programme set by the Federal Council into external action. It is based on the Swiss Constitution and follows the principles of consistency, trust and tradition. The new strategy emphasises different aspects from the previous foreign policy strategy and offers new instruments.

The two previous strategies (2012–15 and 2016–19) have been reviewed in the annual foreign policy reports.
The four thematic focus areas of the current 2020–23 strategy (peace and security, prosperity, sustainability, digitalisation) and their related targets will be implemented in all regions of the world and at the multilateral level.

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