Dear Mr President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly George Tsereteli
Dear Chair of the Silk Road Support Group Azay Guliyev
Honourable Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
Stimati membri dell’Assemblea federale Svizzera
Mesdames et Messieurs
On behalf of the Swiss Government, I’d like to welcome you all to Switzerland, and in particular to Andermatt, the cradle of our country, where Switzerland was born in 1291.
It is a true pleasure to be here with you at this amazing event: this is the first time that your parliamentary group is meeting in Switzerland. And I hope not the last one! You will be debating an important political topic: the Belt and Road Initiative.
I would like to thank the organisers, and particularly Filippo Lombardi, member of the Council of States and Vice-Chair of the OSCE Silk Road Support Group, and Margaret Kiener Nellen, member of the National Council and head of the Swiss Delegation to your Parliamentary Assembly.
In bringing us all to the (Swiss) Alps, they are inviting us to set high aims in defining our common vision to support the Silk Road and set our course for future actions.
There really is no better place to discuss the economic opportunities and risks of the Belt and Road Initiative than such a private setting in the Swiss Alps.
Switzerland and the BRI
This Initiative has from the outset been received with great hope around the world, but many questions still have to be answered. Some countries are convinced of the opportunities offered by the Initiative, and the prospects for economic development. Others still have doubts about the geo-political dimension of the project. The Swiss Government sees the BRI as an opportunity as well as a challenge, in an increasingly inter-dependent world.
Optimising transport links by improving infrastructure and cross-border cooperation is critical for achieving greater connectivity, economic prosperity and stability.
Switzerland is at the forefront of this struggle: our tunnels have been connecting people and economies north and south of the Alps since the nineteenth century. Just a few kilometres from here is the world’s longest railway tunnel, inaugurated in 2016 (twenty-sixteen). It took more than 17 years to complete the fifty-seven-kilometre-long Gotthard Base Tunnel. With a journey time of just 2 hours and 40 minutes between Zurich and Milan, the tunnel has not only shortened travel times between Northern and Southern Europe. It has also vastly improved goods transport capacities and connectivity within Europe.
Better connections and increased exchanges along its route are also central goals of the new Silk Road. I am convinced that the BRI, by providing improved infrastructure and additional jobs, can help to boost prosperity and stability, and also reduce poverty.
It has the potential to bring Europe and China closer together. It will help to expand the flow of goods and ideas, and multiply people-to-people relations. Conscious of the implications for the Eurasian continent, Switzerland was one of the first Western countries to express its interest in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Opportunities and risks of the BRI
Today, it is our task to fulfil the potential of this Initiative. What started out as a Chinese-led vision, will hopefully become a global aspiration with many stakeholders. Switzerland is committed to contributing to the Initiative’s sustainability, and to ensuring coherence with other initiatives and the existing multilateral framework. At the first Belt and Road Summit in 2017 (twenty-seventeen), we encouraged the observation of internationally recognised rules in the framework of the BRI. This was taken into account in the final declaration, and was again confirmed at the second Belt and Road Summit last spring.
Closer economic ties are necessary, but alone are not sufficient to bring about better political cooperation. The global environment must be appropriate in order for relations to grow. Such an environment is shaped by effective multilateralism as embodied in the jointly agreed Sustainable Development Goals.
Especially in regions with underdevelopment, where a lack of prospects are a source of conflict, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to improve stability and security. A mission that is at the very core of the OSCE’s work with its 57 member states.
Even the most powerful countries need to work with others to cope with transnational threats and challenges. As the Belt and Road Initiative passes through the immense OSCE area, it will be essential to work together to ensure good governance, fight corruption, counter violent extremism, and enhance border controls.
Globalisation and democracy
Globalisation has brought the world unprecedented levels of innovation and trade, and thus wealth creation. However, in order for the BRI to be successful, we need good governance and compliance with internationally recognised standards, to guarantee transparency in financial transactions, and to respect the rule of law.
Experience shows that improvements are needed, especially with regard to the problem of over-indebtedness. High standards in the area of social, labour and human rights have to be taken into account – in the interests of our countries and economies.
Investments must be environmentally sustainable, which is paramount in the face of climate change and ever scarcer resources. As members of the international community, we have a shared responsibility and a common interest in promoting cooperation, peace and stability.
The caravans that followed the ancient Silk Road allowed for greater human exchanges. The peoples along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative should have a say in how this connectivity is developed. And how the wealth created by it is spent. International partners need to respect each other’s roots, traditions and rights. Ownership is the fundamental driving force of development.
You, as members of parliament, have a crucial role to play to ensure this ownership. By your presence here today within the OSCE, and your commitment in your respective countries, you are demonstrating your willingness to ensure democratic control for the communities along the Belt and Road Initiative.
Dear Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen
Let’s work together to make the Belt and Road Initiative an initiative for people, peace, the planet and prosperity.
I hope you have a very successful conference.