Questions are now being asked why the United States (among other countries) continues to “pick on” Switzerland. Whether it is banking secrecy or offshore accounts, the feeling is that the United States is acting like a bully and that Switzerland is an innocent victim.
A recent headline in the Tribune de Genève caught my attention:“Pierre Vincenz, directeur du groupe Raiffeisen, estime que la Suisse a trop tardé avec l’Union européenne.“ M. Vincenz goes on to explain that for several years it was clear that Swiss banks would not be able to continue to do business with non-declared money in a grey zone. He advocates a more pro-active policy, clearly regretting that his voice had not been listened to before about opening discussions concerning the automatic exchange of information, which he thought inevitable.
How does this relate to Switzerland and the United States? In a sense, current problems between Switzerland and the United States are part and parcel of an asymmetric relationship. The so-called Sister Republics were much closer historically when they were similar in size. Although Switzerland often punches above its weight politically and economically, it is nowhere in the same league as the United States. A certain amount of bullying is bound to happen even between brothers and sisters in the same family. The bigger and stronger often prevail with little justice.
However, and to return to Pierre Vincenz’s point, there is no reason why Switzerland should not have been more proactive in its relations with the United States. The Swiss Foundation for World Affairs located within a prestigious university in Washington D.C. was an important platform to present Swiss ideas on banking and politics to decision makers. Its closing cut off an important venue for dialogue.
And, as particularly relates to International Geneva, the recent closing of World Radio Switzerland by the Swiss Government in spite of thousands of letters of support and numerous awards sends a negative signal to the Anglosphere community in Switzerland. To say that “WRS is no longer a priority for the audiovisual public service of Switzerland” will certainly not be taken as a positive sign by English speakers in Geneva and beyond.
It cannot be proven that there is a cause and effect relationship between the closing of The Swiss Foundation for World Affairs in Washington and World Radio Switzerland in terms of a deteriorating relationship between Washington and Bern. However, these two rather inexpensive activities were proactive outreaches and obvious confidence-building measures.
Is it justifiable for Switzerland to claim it is being victimized when it fails to reach out to the very audience it wants to do business with? Or, at least, not to be “picked on”? Instead of crying victim, perhaps it would be better to analyze why there is a negative attitude, and to develop a coherent strategy for the long term. Events do not happen in vacuums; there are histories behind them. To be proactive may not be in the Swiss tradition, but being reactive, as Vincenz argues, limits the possibilities for favorable negotiations.
The saying goes “What goes out comes back.” While there may be no cause and effect following from the closings, there is, in my opinion, some correlation. Both closings are shortsighted; they certainly do not help build a constructive relationship. The next time Bern cries victim of harassment, let the government look in the mirror to explain what it has done to be proactive, or minimally not to be negative.