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Group photo of participants in Parliament.
The ceremony provides an important opportunity for the FDFA to maintain contact with ambassadors accredited to Switzerland. (© Valentin Flauraud)

Why is the annual New Year's reception so important and how does it help the FDFA maintain contact with representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps?

The New Year's Reception for the diplomatic corps is hosted by the President of the Swiss Confederation. At the ceremony, the diplomatic corps congratulates the President of the Confederation in the presence of the head of the FDFA.

Picture of Ambassador Beatrice Schaer, head of protocol.
Ambassador Beatrice Schaer, head of protocol. (© zvg)

For the FDFA, the reception provides an important opportunity to meet heads of mission who are accredited to Switzerland. However, the ceremony is not just attended by heads of mission resident in Geneva. Certain heads of mission who are cross-accredited to Switzerland also travel to the reception from abroad.

Why does the Apostolic Nuncio give an address as well as the President? Is there a historical reason for this or does the representative of the Holy See have a special status in the foreign diplomatic corps?

The Nuncio is the dean of the diplomatic corps. The dean is the senior diplomatic representative of the diplomatic corps in relation to the government of the host country. In Switzerland, the Nuncio has been serving as dean since 1923. In 1953 the Federal Council first appointed the Apostolic Nuncio as de jure dean of the diplomatic corps in Switzerland. In his New Year's reception address, the Nuncio congratulates the new President of the Confederation on behalf of the diplomatic corps.

Each country has its own diplomatic traditions. What is involved for FDFA Protocol in organising an international event like this?

FDFA Protocol sends out the invitations, contacts the authorities in Bern, mobilises the various partners (fedpol, FOBL, Parliamentary Services, etc.), contacts the Apostolic Nuncio regarding his address, establishes the protocol, and oversees the entire process. At the event itself, FDFA Protocol welcomes the guests of the President of the Confederation and, based on the precedence list, lines up the heads of mission in the correct order in the Wandelhalle at the Federal Palace. The head of Protocol officiates at the event. She announces each country to the President of the Confederation and calls speakers to the podium in the National Council Chamber.

Will the same procedure be followed this year, given the COVID-19 restrictions in place?

No. This year, the pandemic presents specific challenges in terms of the organisation of the New Year's reception. The usual lineup to greet the diplomats cannot take place in the Wandelhalle. FDFA Protocol therefore had to devise an alternative programme.

You must have attended several of these New Year's receptions in your time as head of Protocol. Is there a particular reception that stands out in your memory?

12 January 2022 is my second New Year's reception. The 2021 New Year's reception was, unfortunately, cancelled because of the pandemic. I have vivid memories from January 2020 of discussions with the Iranian ambassador on how to greet President Sommaruga. The ambassador refused to shake hands with the President, so a diplomatic solution had to be found. Eventually it was decided that Federal Councillor Cassis, as the FDFA's representative, would not shake hands with the ambassador either, but like the President, would greet him by placing his hand over his heart.

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Last update 26.01.2022