Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

"Lugano – Locarno under 30 minutes: it's like an metro"

In an interview with Swiss radio (SRF), Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis expresses his delight at the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel. The Federal Councillor from Ticino emphasises the importance of this project, both for his home canton and for Switzerland as a whole, and shows how Switzerland intends to continue to play a confident role in Europe and the global world in the future.

04.09.2020
 Photomontage with Ignazio Cassis looking into the camera and two speech bubble icons with question marks and answer to represent an interview.

In SRF's "Tagesgespräch", Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis emphasises the great importance of the Ceneri Base Tunnel for his home canton. © FDFA

"Joy reigns again", says Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, referring to the famous quotation by former Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi more than 30 years ago. The opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel is not only a day of celebration at national level, because it marks the successful completion of the once-in-a-century NEAT project, but also a special moment of great symbolic significance for the Canton of Ticino.

"The Ceneri Base Tunnel is extremely important for Ticino. It creates prospects: economic development prospects, employment prospects and intercultural perspectives. In addition, the Ceneri Base Tunnel facilitates personal relations throughout Switzerland," stresses Federal Councillor Cassis.

Substantial influence on the business and economic location Ticino

Within two hours from Lugano to Zurich: something that would have been unthinkable back when Ignazio Cassis himself travelled from Ticino to Zurich for his university studies. "I had to cross the Gotthard by car and it took me over four hours. The opportunities that the NEAT offers us mean a quantum leap in our country's freedom of movement." In the southern canton itself, people are also coming closer together thanks to the Ceneri Base Tunnel. "Lugano – Locarno under 30 minutes: it's like a metro. It's like being inside a single city travelling by a tramway. You can't express this joy enough."

The opportunities that the NEAT offers us mean a quantum leap in our country's freedom of movement. You can't express this joy enough.

With the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, the Ticino cities of Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno are growing closer together. Something that will have a major impact on the economic and social development of the region in the medium term. "The Ceneri Base Tunnel will enable easy commuting between these cities. It therefore has a major impact on the mobility of the population. In turn, this has an impact on the labour market. The economic structure is oriented towards locations that offer advantages. Sufficiently qualified employees are the biggest driver of the economy," stresses Federal Councillor Cassis.

The freedom to say no is part of the Swiss identity

Political stability and clear rules are also important for the economy. One of Switzerland's most important economic partners is the European Union. In the SRF' "Tagesgespräch", Federal Councillor Cassis emphasises how important it is that following the referendum of 27 September 2020 on the Limitation Initiative (BGI), there will be clarity regarding the further steps to be taken. "In order to clarify our future relationship with the EU and define Switzerland's role in Europe, the people must first say no to the BGI on 27 September. If the popular initiative is passed, this would lead to great uncertainty in the exchange with our neighbouring countries and the EU as a whole."

This in turn would have a direct impact on Switzerland's prosperity and independence. "Of course, talks with the EU can always be misunderstood as us losing our freedom. However, we would also lose it if we were to give up the possibility of saying no," emphasises Ignazio Cassis.

Switzerland would like to be geopolitically unemployed

Open discussions are per se the best basis for establishing good economic, political and social relations; not only in Europe. Immediately after the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, Federal Councillor Cassis travels to Iran in his capacity as Foreign Minister. The main reason for the visit is the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, but also the protection mandate which Switzerland has undertaken for the USA and Canada in Iran.

It would be illusory to believe that Switzerland is so powerful that it can order other countries to do what they have to do. But constant dripping wears away a stone.

The protective power mandate is an example of Switzerland's good offices and is much more than a postman's job between two quarrelling states. "Nevertheless, I do not want to underestimate the classic postman function: sometimes letters are very important and it is very important for a relationship that these letters get safely from point A to point B," stresses Federal Councillor Cassis.

Good services are nothing new for Switzerland. They represent its soft power, with which it plays an important role in international politics. Although, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) would actually prefer not to have so much to do. "Unfortunately, the need for good offices is increasing again. I say unfortunately, because in an ideal world we would actually be unemployed."

No dialogue is no alternative to uncomfortable talks

In a fragmented world like ours, Switzerland's role as a mediator does not mean that it will soon be out of work. This makes an open exchange - even on sensitive issues - all the more important. "If you have the role of a mediator, then this role is something that both sides want, and therefore there is also a willingness to talk about difficult issues. Among friends, you can also discuss delicate issues," says Federal Councillor Cassis.

Of course you need patience and endurance. "It would be illusory to believe that Switzerland is so powerful that it can order other countries to do what they have to do. But constant dripping wears away a stone. And we are not alone; there are the multilateral support bodies. And what would be the alternative? No dialogue? Not to talk to one another? That would achieve even less."

So Switzerland is focusing on dialogue instead of isolation, on proximity instead of distance: this applies to the relationships between Locarno and Lugano just as much as it does to the Switzerland’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world.

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