Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

"All of us must work hard, only together can we do this"

On Monday evening, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis was a guest on the programme "60 Minuti" on RSI. The head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) spoke about the importance of federalism in Switzerland and the measures adopted by the Federal Council to combat the COVID 19 pandemic. Among other things, personal responsibility and mutual solidarity are decisive factors in the fight against the pandemic.

03.11.2020
Photomontage with Ignazio Cassis looking into the camera and two speech bubble icons with question marks and answers representing an interview.

In an interview with RSI, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis talks about the current COVID 19 crisis and the importance of Switzerland's federalist system. © FDFA

The pandemic situation in Switzerland has worsened further in recent days. In addition to Geneva, two other cantons, Jura and Neuchâtel, have decided to close bars, restaurants and cultural sites. At the same time, experts are warning of overcapacity in Swiss hospitals. Asked about the reluctance of the Federal Council to take action, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis emphasises the polarisation of society in an interview with RSI. "Some consider the latest measures to be too timid, others think that we are going too far. The reality lies probably in the middle. We are in the middle of a pandemic. We must take it seriously, without exaggerating, dramatising or even falling into defeatism."

While in spring the aim was to contain people's fears, today we have to deal with people' scepticism and exhaustion in the face of a situation that is becoming ever more protracted.

In addition, the head of the FDFA points out the fundamental differences between the first and second waves. Firstly, the healthcare professionals are now in a better position to fight off a now better known disease, and secondly, mortality is lower than in the spring. However, at the same time the challenges have changed. "While in spring the aim was to contain people's fears, today we have to deal with people' scepticism and exhaustion in the face of a situation that is becoming ever more protracted," explains Mr Cassis. He added that politicians also have a crucial role to play in this respect, when it comes to not getting too excited and keeping a clear head: "Switzerland will definitely defeat this virus".

Liberal at heart

Is the Federal Council divided? "The Federal Council represents the range of all views and trends that affect the entire population," explains Ignazio Cassis. The Federal Council also stresses that Switzerland is deeply liberal at heart. "Liberal principles are deeply rooted in our country – like freedom of opinion or freedom of movement. This is precisely what gives rise to the protests of part of society against restrictive measures". Ignazio Cassis then also stresses that Switzerland cannot stand still completely. "You cannot block society completely. The solution must not be worse than the problem itself".

Society must not stand still, but at the same time it must not split. In this sense, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis appeals to people's personal responsibility. "We have many different measures to help us slow down the spread of infections, but solidarity among people is important. We can only fight the virus if we show solidarity".

Defense of federalism

Faced with the sometimes drastic decisions in other European countries such as France, Germany or Great Britain, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis refers to the federalist system in Switzerland. While France with its presidential system is accustomed to decisions from above, Switzerland strives to live its culture of political pluralism even in difficult times. "Of course, we observe the reactions of our neighbouring countries, but we are also aware that there are differences in political culture and tradition. There is no magic wand to solve this issue. All of us must work hard, only together can we do this," emphasises Mr Cassis. The diversity of cantonal decisions must also be taken into account. "It is not in Switzerland's nature to ignore the wishes and decisions of the cantons, however different they may be. In order to combat this pandemic, we must find a balance between individual sensibilities and federalist options", explains the head of the FDFA, while stressing that this is a pluralism of opinion "of which we should be proud". 

We have many different measures to help us slow down the spread of infections, but solidarity among people is important. We can only fight the virus if we show solidarity.»

In the current situation, is there any possibility that the Confederation will return to the "extraordinary situation" of spring? "The Federal Council is not ruling it out," explains Mr Cassis. "If the cantons no longer have the resources to fight the virus on their own, they can rely on the Federal Council. In such cases, the Federal Council will take the necessary measures. So far, this call for help from the cantons has not yet reached us". The Federal Councillor concludes the meeting as follows: "A health crisis of this magnitude cannot be expected not to change anything. However, the COVID-19 crisis will not change the instruments available to the Confederation to defend the interests of its citizens, including in terms of economic support".

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