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Young Leaders Alumni Dinner | November 2022

Keynote Speech made at the 2022 Alumni Dinner by Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis.


Remarks by Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis

Young Leaders Reunion Dinner

Bern, Switzerland | November 15, 2022

Egregi signori Giuffra e Diethelm (Co-Chairs ASF), Cara signora Schramm (Präsidentin ASF (Direktorin), Gentile signor Liès (Host), Gentile consigliere nazionale Markwalder, cara Christa, Eccellenze,

Dear Young Leaders

Thank you for this kind introduction, it is my great pleasure to spend this evening with you.

I have long been a great fan of the Young Leaders Conference. Its notion of learning from each other, creating bonds of friendship, and fostering mutual understanding is really inspirational. It is just what the world needs in these difficult times.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I think about Switzerland and the US, there is this peculiar metal plaque hanging just around the corner on the “Loeb-Egge” that often comes to mind. On this plaque, you will find all the places in the US that have taken up the name of Bern, as well as the distances to these places:

  • Six of these places have shown limited creativity and simply call themselves, well, Bern.
  • Five other places call themselves “New Bern”.
  • The last two are the really creative ones! First, there is “Bernville”, Pennsylvania.
  • And then, my favourite one,” EastBernstadt”, Kentucky.

Is anyone from one of these Berns?

So why am I telling you all this?I would like to make you aware of how much Switzerland is in the US and how close ties between our countries are. Close personal ties, close historical ties, close the cultural ties and of course close economic ties. This year the US has become the biggest market for Swiss exports worldwide. And there is potential for even closer ties considering that there is no free trade between our countries. (Now my notes say to give an expectant look to the American representatives. Of course, that’s what I’m doing).

Dear Young Leaders,

This year, we have all witnessed a strategic game-changer in Europe. Russia’s brutal military aggression against Ukraine has brought war back to Europe and collapsed Europe’s security order. This war is an outrageous attack on a sovereign state, on democracy and freedom. Switzerland has strongly condemned the aggression as a serious violation of international law and called on Russia to withdraw from all Ukrainian territories. And we have taken up EU sanctions. This is in line with neutrality law and with the Swiss conception of neutrality. We cannot simply stand by and watch the brutal violation of our values and how Russia puts might over right. Neutrality is not indifference.

The twin of Swiss neutrality is our solidarity. Recently I was in Kyiv. I learned what people in Ukraine now need. First they need help to make it through the winter. This is why the Federal Council has recently committed another 100 million Swiss francs of humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Second people need hope. Also on this we are working hard. Switzerland initiated the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano last July. As a result of this conference the international community agreed on the “Lugano Principles”.

These serve as a basis for all the follow-up conferences on the reconstruction of the Ukraine. This gives the Ukrainian prospects for the future and having prospects means having hope.

Ladies and gentleman, Switzerland takes its responsibility! But neutrality law also defines limits. Being neutral means no participation in war, no right of military passage and no supplying of troops or arms to warring parties. Even though I understand criticism, this is no matter of arguments but a matter of law.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We realise, a period of security and prosperity has drawn to an end. And there is no new order in sight. Crises even overlap. Geopolitics and great power competition shape international dynamics. Globalisation is in reverse gear. The world is becoming more fragmented again. Democracy is in retreat, now authoritarianism is in vogue.

According to the human rights organisation Freedom House, in the last 16 years there have been more states with regressions in political freedoms than those with progress. And to you, dear young leaders, I needn’t say anything about the consequences of 6 January 2021. But also in Europe, confidence in democratic institutions is declining. So how democracies deal with the authoritarian challenge – externally as well as internally – is a major question of our time.

And although I am aware that liberal democracies also produce failures I am convinced that they are part of the solution to our problems. This is why fostering democracy will be a priority of Swiss foreign policy in the coming years. Not in a crusading way, but as an offer for those interested.

Let me conclude with relating all this back to Swiss-US relations. This year, Switzerland and the US:

  • have deepened our bilateral relationship by institutionalising a dialogue on strategic partnership;
  • we have also launched an exciting new cooperation on quantum information science and technology;
  • and, we have jointly established a fund to benefit the people of Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see there is a lot of Switzerland in the US and a lot of the US in Switzerland. Maybe this is what motivated President Biden to mention Switzerland for the second time in a row in his State of the Union address this year. Who knows, with one of these examples we might go for the hat trick in January. (And again my notes say to give an expectant look to the American representatives.)

Dear Alumni, as a reminder of the close ties between Switzerland and the United States, I have brought you a small gift. It’s a copy of the map "Helvetica Americana". It shows cities in the US with names that go back to places in Switzerland. May it help you carry the names of Switzerland to even more places in the United States – now I’m giving an expectant look to all of you, dear young leaders.

I wish you fruitful discussions and an unforgettable conference in Switzerland. Thank you.