– Fed­eral Coun­cil­lor Ig­nazio Cas­sis “There’s no in­sur­ance for pros­per­ity.”

Fed­eral Coun­cil­lor Ig­nazio Cas­sis is con­cerned about Switzer­land’s po­si­tion as a busi­ness lo­ca­tion, would like to cure the Swiss of their per­fec­tion­ism and sup­ports bi­lat­eral agree­ments.

Bulletin - - Contents - In­ter­view by Manuel Ry­bach

Ig­nazio Cas­sis ( 57) has headed the Fed­eral Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs (EDA) since 2017. For the two years prior to his elec­tion to the Fed­eral Coun­cil, Dr. Cas­sis, a physi­cian, was pres­i­dent of the FDP. The Lib­er­als par­lia­men­tary group, which he has been a mem­ber of since his elec­tion to the Na­tional Coun­cil in 2007.

This in­ter­view was con­ducted on Septem­ber 12, 2018 [ed­i­tor’s note]

Coun­cil­lor Cas­sis, Swiss vot­ers view pen­sions, health­care and health in­sur­ance, and mi­gra­tion as the na­tion’s most press­ing problems. What do you make of these con­cerns?

They are the clas­sic wor­ries of peo­ple liv­ing in rich coun­tries. Mi­gra­tion, un­em­ploy­ment and re­tire­ment pro­vi­sion all re­late to things our so­ci­ety holds dear: se­cu­rity, in­de­pen­dence and en­sur­ing our pros­per­ity. What I find in­ter­est­ing is that health­care and health in­sur­ance have be­come more of a hot-but­ton is­sue even though the de­bate over ris­ing health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums has been on­go­ing for sev­eral years at the same level of in­ten­sity.

Why do you think that is the case?

Clearly, it’s a mat­ter of per­spec­tive and con­text. In the last sev­eral years, peo­ple seem to have been more con­cerned with other is­sues like mi­gra­tion, refugees and un­em­ploy­ment than with health care. But mi­gra­tion has de­creased and un­em­ploy­ment is now low.

What do you con­sider the coun­try’s most press­ing problems?

I do worry about Switzer­land’s po­si­tion as a busi­ness lo­ca­tion. We can’t sim­ply as­sume that our pros­per­ity is a di­vine right. We must un­der­stand that there’s no in­sur­ance for pros­per­ity. We are all re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing it – each and ev­ery one of us.

What fac­tors are most crit­i­cal for Switzer­land’s fu­ture?

We need to keep three key points in mind. We need open mar­kets. We need to ex­pect and pro­mote in­di­vid­ual ini­tia­tive. And we need in­no­va­tion. That last point sounds easy but re­quires a real change in our think­ing. Be­cause of our pros­per­ity, we Swiss suf­fer from per­fec­tion­ism. On the other hand, in­no­va­tion en­tails tak­ing risks and mak­ing mis­takes. So, we have to de­velop a cul­ture that al­lows that – that al­lows peo­ple to take risks and make mis­takes and learn and grow from them.

Europe ranks sev­enth on the Worry Barom­e­ter. While 40 per­cent of vot­ers in the years be­tween 1985 and 1990 were con­cerned about the EU, bi­lat­eral agree­ments and in­te­gra­tion, only 22 per­cent are to­day. Are Swiss vot­ers un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the im­por­tance of our re­la­tion­ships with the EU?

I don’t think so. I get the sense that peo­ple are sim­ply more re­laxed about it. A year ago, in the run-up to the Fed­eral Coun­cil elec­tions, there was a great deal of com­mo­tion about “for­eign judges” and the “death of di­rect democ­racy.” Since then, peo­ple have come to un­der­stand what it’s re­ally about – namely, reg­u­lat­ing mar­ket

ac­cess and not killing democ­racy as some were claim­ing. Maybe the outreach ef­forts that busi­ness groups started this year in col­lab­o­ra­tion with pol­i­cy­mak­ers are work­ing.

The sur­vey took place in the sum­mer of 2018. When they were asked what kind of re­la­tion­ship Switzer­land should have with the EU in the fu­ture, 65 per­cent of re­spon­dents said that they would like to keep the bi­lat­eral agree­ments. In ad­di­tion, 82 per­cent con­sider the bi­lat­eral agree­ments im­por­tant or even very im­por­tant. How do you see Switzer­land’s fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the EU?

Let’s con­sider what Switzer­land wants to gain from the bi­lat­eral agree­ments. We want to ob­tain the best pos­si­ble ac­cess to the EU’S sin­gle mar­ket while giv­ing up as lit­tle of our sovereignty as pos­si­ble. That cov­ers two fun­da­men­tal ob­jec­tives of our con­sti­tu­tion: pros­per­ity and in­de­pen­dence. If we deem the bi­lat­eral agree­ments to be the right path for­ward in the fu­ture, we will also need the EU to be on board. It takes two to make a mar­riage work. We are cur­rently work­ing within the in­sti­tu­tional frame­work to de­velop solutions – and, like the EU, we are try­ing to en­sure that Switzer­land gets the best deal pos­si­ble.

More than half of the sur­vey’s re­spon­dents feel that strength­en­ing trade ties with large coun­tries like China or the US could be enough to make up for the loss should mar­ket ac­cess to the EU de­te­ri­o­rate for the Swiss econ­omy. Is that re­al­is­tic?

That could the­o­ret­i­cally be pos­si­ble, but in ac­tu­al­ity it would take a lot of time. Com­pa­nies don’t change their busi­ness mod­els or their cus­tomers that quickly. Be­sides, I don’t want to merely “make up” lost busi­ness – that isn’t am­bi­tious enough. I want us to grow our trade with the EU and with other coun­tries. If we can do that, Switzer­land will re­main a leader. To ac­com­plish that, we will need to main­tain and cul­ti­vate the ma­jor­ity of our trade re­la­tions with the EU for the decades ahead. Es­pe­cially those with our im­me­di­ate neigh­bors. We have to be care­ful not to un­der­es­ti­mate their im­por­tance.

In what way?

I’ll give you three ex­am­ples. Our trade with neigh­bor­ing re­gions is al­most

one-quar­ter more than with all of the BRICS coun­tries (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China, and South Africa) com­bined. Our cur­rent trade vol­ume with Badenwürt­tem­berg and Bavaria alone is al­most one-quar­ter larger than the vol­ume with all of China. And we trade more with the Lom­bardy re­gion of Italy than we do with Ja­pan. Of course, we also want to grow in new mar­kets. But it would be un­re­al­is­tic to think that we could sim­ply swap out our trade with the EU mar­ket for a dif­fer­ent, far­away trad­ing partner at the drop of a hat.

The sur­vey showed that 69 per­cent of vot­ers would like to see their gov­ern­ment take a more ag­gres­sive stance to­ward other coun­tries. What do you make of that?

I see it as an ap­peal to the Swiss gov­ern­ment to be more as­sertive, to state more clearly that our sovereignty and our bor­ders are im­por­tant. We haven’t seen that at­ti­tude among vot­ers for quite some time but it is grad­u­ally be­com­ing more main­stream again across Europe. It’s im­por­tant to have a cer­tain level of self-con­fi­dence. But at the same time, we have to be wary of hubris. We are what we are. That is, we are 8.5 mil­lion peo­ple in the heart of Europe, sur­rounded by the EU. We are diplo­mat­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant but we are not a global mil­i­tary power. So, we need func­tion­ing, mul­ti­lat­eral treaties.

You have been work­ing on the Vi­sion 2028 for­eign pol­icy. Where are we headed?

As I men­tioned ear­lier, we’re see­ing the pen­du­lum swing back from glob­al­iza­tion to­wards more pro­tec­tion­ism – and bor­ders are be­com­ing more im­por­tant again. The re­sult is a mul­ti­po­lar world with in­creased un­cer­tainty and a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent play­ers. For us, that means we have to be flex­i­ble and smart – in our ne­go­ti­a­tions with all coun­tries and in of­fer­ing our ser­vices as ne­go­tia­tors. In­creased po­lar­iza­tion means in­creased risk of ten­sions. And we Swiss are ex­perts at re­solv­ing ten­sions. In­creased po­lar­iza­tion could also make travel more cum­ber­some again, re­quir­ing more pass­port checks, visas and such. That in turn would mean more work for our con­sulates – de­spite the ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal­iza­tion. Each year, the Swiss log 12.5 mil­lion non-busi­ness trips out­side

the coun­try. And that is not count­ing the 800,000 or so Swiss cit­i­zens liv­ing abroad.

In terms of pol­icy, sur­vey par­tic­i­pants are send­ing mixed sig­nals. On the one hand, their con­fi­dence in po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions is ex­cep­tion­ally high. On the other, there ap­pears to be a gen­eral sense that poli­cies and pol­i­cy­mak­ers are fail­ing us. In 2017, 24 per­cent felt that poli­cies of­ten fail, but 45 per­cent say so to­day.

I don’t see that as con­tra­dic­tory. The in­sti­tu­tions are the in­fra­struc­ture, and pol­icy is the out­put. Our mech­a­nisms work well, even in times of cri­sis. But the re­sults – the de­ci­sions that are made within those mech­a­nisms – are in­creas­ingly driven by un­cer­tainty. Stag­nant pros­per­ity, in­creas­ing global con­flict and ter­ror at­tacks in Europe are all is­sues that have arisen. They can give us a sense that poli­cies have failed. We find our­selves in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, feel­ing we have less control over our own des­tiny than we did twenty years ago.

The Swiss are gen­er­ally very op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. Only 7 per­cent feel that we will be worse off in a decade’s time. Do you share this op­ti­mism?

Yes, be­cause it is jus­ti­fied. Our so­ci­ety and econ­omy stand on a very sound foot­ing. As a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ment, I con­sider this the best news of all from the sur­vey. It re­flects Switzer­land’s sta­bil­ity and the strong gen­eral sense of trust that our peo­ple have in our coun­try.

You went to med­i­cal school and then worked in in­ter­nal medicine. What can medicine teach us about pol­i­tics?

The Ger­man pathol­o­gist and politi­cian Ru­dolf Vir­chow once said, “Pol­i­tics is noth­ing else but medicine on a large scale.” And I think he is right. Med­i­cal sci­en­tists and politi­cians are very sim­i­lar. Their work cen­ters on peo­ple and all of their con­tra­dic­tions, hopes and fears. I find it more sur­pris­ing that I am only the sec­ond physi­cian to serve on the Fed­eral Coun­cil. The first was Adolf Deucher, from Thur­gau. He was elected in the late 19th cen­tury and re­mained in of­fice for nearly 30 years. That’s quite a stan­dard to live up to (laughs).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Switzerland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.