Switzerland's ambassadors abroad began their annual conference Monday, with “meeting the people” high on their agenda of the three-day event. The idea is that local people and ambassadors will exchange views on a series of political and other topics.
Switzerland's ambassadors abroad began their annual conference Monday, with “meeting the people” high on their agenda of the three-day event. The main idea is that local people and ambassadors will exchange views on a series of political and other topics.
About 110 diplomats representing Switzerland all over the world were invited by Foreign Minister Josef Deiss to the Fribourg district of the Haut-Lac.
In a brief informal speech, he outlined his views of Swiss foreign policy and the main political priorities, particularly with a view to the situation in the Balkans and the bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union.
The delegates later also held talks with Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin.
"This is the real thing. It's the ground meeting the ground," said the man behind the project, Jean-Daniel Clavel, ahead of the conference.
"It's the Switzerland in Pakistan, India or Rwanda face to face with the Switzerland of Courtaman, Barberêche and Courtepin," he said.
There are two aims behind the novel meeting: It's an opportunity for the local people to understand diplomacy better and discuss Switzerland's role in the world. For their part, the ambassadors should receive a better perception of Swiss reality.
"You cannot properly defend the issues surrounding Europe and the United Nations if there isn't a more direct means of communication," said Clavel. "We live in a direct democracy and there's an important effort of information to be made.”
Twenty-eight workshops are in the programme, which takes place in Courtaman and the seven other Haut-Lac communes. Topics range from agricultural policy to looking after refugees.
The meeting is something of a challenge for the mayor of Courtaman, Albert Spicher.
"We obviously don't have the infrastructure for such an event, but we're simply going to be ourselves and present our region with its strong and weak points," he said.
Before travelling to Courtaman, the ambassadors will take part in a debate in Berne on Tuesday morning on the theme of business and society.
The invited speakers are Daniel Vassella, chief executive of the Basel-based Novartis life sciences group and Riccardo Petrella, a specialist of problems linked to globalisation.
The remainder of the conference, which lasts from Monday to Wednesday, will be more traditional. Different working groups will discuss the bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union, and the Swiss presence abroad.
After a reception given by the government on Wednesday evening to close the conference, there is an invitation on Thursday by this year's Swiss president, Ruth Dreifuss, to visit her home canton, Geneva.
From SRI staff.
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