Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Let us protect our liberal society

Summer holidays in Ticino, a world threatening to come apart at the seams and the importance of never losing sight, no matter how heated the discussion, of the possibility that the person on the other side of the table might be right. In a guest article in the Swiss weekly Weltwoche, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis offers a glimpse into his summer holiday and shares his view of the reasons for Switzerland's success in times of global unrest.

17.09.2020
 Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis walking across a miniature motorway bridge at Swissminiatur.

Patience, engagement and dialogue: in a guest article in the Swiss weekly Weltwoche, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis shares his view of the reasons for Switzerland's success. © Gianluca Simone

As a federal councillor, I'm often asked where I spend my summer holidays. My answer is always the same: in Ticino, where else? Some may find that surprising. My job as foreign minister requires me to go out into the world. But when you're away for much of the year, you look forward to spending time at home. You yearn for tranquillity, the comfort of home and familiar faces. A federal councillor's daily routine revolves around a tight schedule of meetings. It's not unlike a GP's: you're constantly rushing from one patient to the next without spending as much time with each one as you would like to.

My summer holidays allow me to recharge my batteries, catch up with my reading and delve into topics that require sustained concentration. The FDFA provides me with the perfect summer reading list, ranging from our regional strategies in priority countries, to our common digital future, to the report on international humanitarian law. The long days of summer also allow me the freedom to plunge into new reading adventures. This year I ventured into 'Liberalconservatismo', Sergio Morisoli's literary and political exposition of his liberal-conservative philosophy.

 

The whole world is going mad – and we're part of it

The summer allows us to dare to be ourselves. Above all it's a time to find inner peace. It's also a time to read the morning papers on the garden terrace and catch up on world events, which admittedly put a damper on my holiday mood this year. A war here, a coup d'état there. Demonstrations, unrest, riots. We are also witnessing an arms race between the major world powers, humanitarian disasters caused by explosions and famines and, as if that were not enough, a global pandemic that is mercilessly exposing our health, social and economic vulnerabilities. The world is going mad. And we're part of it.

There is no denying that the current political climate is highly unstable. But we should also recognise that clear skies have been the exception in human history. We tend to see the past through rose-coloured glasses that make us forget stormy clouds. In the past, it took generations to take the measure of historical events. Today, we are all living through an epochal historical event in real time. Politics used to be the preserve of the government, but it's increasingly becoming the people's business. Democracy is gaining ground around the world, and poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are in decline. More and more people recognise Switzerland as a model of participatory democracy. We are right to keep a cool head even when things heat up.

 

Uniqueness through engagement

Maintaining a certain degree of equanimity is generally not a bad approach, especially in our relations with others. People are social animals. We want proximity but define ourselves by distancing ourselves from others. A partnership is something you have to work at and requires clear rules. This applies to relations between individuals as much as between states. Countries have personalities, no less than people do. They can be independent-minded and headstrong and come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one single Switzerland. Just as there is no one single Europe. Europe is not the European Union. And the EU is not Brussels. The EU consists of 27 countries, including all of our neighbouring countries.

Our trade with Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria alone is greater than that with all of China. Such long-term relationships are not fleeting summer romances. They are based on hard work, clear rules, and both sides' willingness to compromise. A political and economic friendship that ensures stability and prosperity. A shared bond that allows us our individual freedoms. Switzerland is successful because it is unique. We can only maintain our uniqueness through engagement. Our uniqueness is the result of a long engagement with our neighbours.

 

Let's talk with each other

Speaking of our uniqueness: the Swiss place a high value on individual freedoms. No one may be discriminated against for being different – neither because of their skin colour or their gender. The sovereign right to be unique, which is enjoyed by all Swiss citizens, is enshrined in our Federal Constitution. Every Swiss citizen has the right to hold and express his or her own opinions. We take to the streets to assert these individual rights and risk losing one of the most important achievements of our democracy: our diversity of opinion.

The individual freedom to express one's opinion becomes groupthink. While majority opinion determines what is politically correct, identity politics stifles frank debate. Yet public debate is a quintessentially Swiss trait. Our country has been successful for generations because we uphold our freedom to be true to ourselves. Let us protect our liberal society. Let us talk with each other and always remember that those on the other side of a debate might be right.

 

Article published in the Swiss weekly Weltwoche, Thursday 17 September 2020 Visit www.weltwoche.ch

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