er Schweizer Bundespräsident Flavio Cotti anlässlich seiner Rede am Europatag in Sils im Engadin/Segl vom 7. September 1991 vor zahlreichen nationalen und internationalen Gästen im Rahmen der 700-Jahrfeier der Eidgenossenschaft

Access to the Archives: New documents on Switzerland’s foreign policy in 1991

On January 1st, 2022, the confidentiality period for the Federal Files of 1991 will run out. The newly accessible documents inform about the controversial conclusion of the EEA Agreement as well as about the foreign-political challenges Switzerland was facing at the beginning of the Gulf War of 1991 and the Yugoslav Wars as well as during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.    «Europe is a part of ourselves, and we are a part of her. That is how it has always been. That is how it  will always be.» In front of a great number of guests from Switzerland and other countries, who had been invited to Sils in the Engadine in September, 1991, in the context of celebrating Switzerland’s 700th anniversary, President of the Swiss Confederation Flavio Cotti presented himself as a convinced European (Doc. 37, The apodictic firmness of his positioning, however, is in stark contrast to the dynamics of the developments of European policy in 1991. «In the year of the anniversary, the issue of the future relations with Europe appeared more uncertain than ever, and in this concern the Federal Council was more split than ever», says Sacha Zala, Director of the Dodis Research Centre, while referring to the recent volume of Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (DDS) where the Swiss foreign policy of the year 1991 is documented in detail, by way of selected documents. Numerous further contemporary testimonies, which may now, on January 1st, 2022, be published after their legally fixed period of confidentiality will have run out, present 1991 as a sobering year which posed new challenges also for Switzerland, in particularly after the promising turning point of the year 1990.    «Becoming a satellite» as a result of the EEA Agreement? Throughout that entire year, the European integration remained to be the most urgent topic. A glimmer of light in this context was the conclusion, by Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi, of the transit agreement with the European Community (EC) (Doc. 51, Less successful were the negotiations on the European Economic Area (EEA). If in 1990 the EEA «compromise» seemed to have been the only possible solution, in 1991 there was no agreement at all among the Federal Council. In March, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Cotti, made the suggestion to his fellow Councillor, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, who headed the Federal Department of Economic Affairs and was the chief negotiator together with Foreign Minster René Felber, to break off the «humiliating» negotiations on the EEA as soon as possible, in favour of applying for immediate accession (Doc.  9, The disagreement among the Federal Council was also symbolised by the controversial debate at the Federal Council’s meeting of April 17th, 1991: whereas Minister of Finance Otto Stich was convinced that «a bad agreement can never be considered a step in the right direction» and that the EEA as it existed at that time meant «Switzerland becoming a satellite», Foreign Minister Felber emphasized the «many positive aspects» and the «certain advantages» even of an agreement which was imbalanced to Switzerland’s disadvantage. For Defence Minister Kaspar Villiger, on the other hand, the country was on its way towards being a «colonial state with an autonomy statute» (Doc. 13,   International pressure In the course of talks with their European partners the Federal Councillors made several attempts to give expression to their discontent about the way in which the negotiations were running. German Foreign Minister Genscher replied staunchly that «one’s own national interests could be best supported» only if a country was an EC member (Doc. 16, Even more critical towards Switzerland standing apart was the statement by French President Mitterrand who pointed out that banks alone were no sufficient foundation for a civilisation (Doc. 25,, whereas EC chief negotiator Krenzler even spoke of a «modernity deficit» of Switzerland which could only be «corrected» by Switzerland joining the EC respectively the EEA waiting room (Doc. 27, Only immediately before the meeting of the EC and EFTA ministers in Luxemburg where, according to Switzerland, either «a breakthrough was to be enforced or the failure of the negations was to be stated» (Doc.  44,, the Federal Council made its landmark decision. In the course of the night to October 22nd, 1991, Federal Councillors Felber and Delamuraz accepted the negotiation results concerning the EEA agreement and declared Switzerland joining the EC the strategic goal. Yet still: «The vote on the EEA has not yet been won», the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States anticipated soberly: «There is still gigantic work to be done if the people are to accept this agreement» (Doc.  56,    Dramatic developments in East Europe In 1991, also the developments in Europe’s East showed unchecked dynamics. Under the «maxim of solidary co-responsibility», the Federal Council passed a new Eastern Aid loan of 800 million CHF. Now also Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and the USSR were supposed to benefit from Swiss financial aid (Doc.  35, The Soviet Union, however, was to be non-existent by the end of 1991: with the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics ceased to exist. Remarkably Switzerland, usually rather reluctant when it came to issues of recognition, counted among the first countries to announce the recognition of the Soviet successor republics (Doc.  61, In Switzerland, the dramatic developments in Yugoslavia affected most of all the way of dealing with the considerable share of Yugoslav migrants. In the context of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), however also in the course of unilateral moderation initiatives, Switzerland attempted to contribute to de-escalation on the Balkans (Doc.  50,   «Good offices» in the context of a new world order Also in other regions of the world Switzerland attempted to contribute to pacification. When, shortly before the beginning of the Gulf War, in January, 1991, the Foreign Ministers of the USA and Iraq were meeting one last time in Geneva for talks, once again the Federal Council offered «good offices» and support of the mediation process (Doc.  2, In the context of the Lebanon conflict, Swiss diplomacy supported the release of hostages and prisoners (Doc.  33,, and in Afghanistan it attempted to contribute to a political solution of the messy situation by creating a new negotiation format (Doc.  29, «It is remarkable how actively Swiss foreign policy was involved, alongside the United Nations yet indeed pursuing its own ambitions, in the settlement or prevention of conflicts in quite different regions of the world», says Dodis Director Zala. Switzerland’s search for its new place in the new world order came along with increasingly participating in multi-lateral panels. For example, during its autumn session the parliament passed Switzerland’s accession to the Bretton Woods institutions (Doc.  40,   Economic relations and development aid Trips to and visits from economically dynamic regions outside Europe were meant to avoid any one-sided focus of Switzerland on the European integration. Economic topics were the focus of Federal Councillor Delamuraz’s visit to South Korea and Singapore (Doc.  10,, the same held for Federal Councillor Felber’s trip to India (Doc.  47,, Secretary of State Jacobi’s visit to Beijing (Doc.  21, or for welcoming Argentinian Foreign Minister Di Tella to Berne (Doc. A new policy by the Agency for Development and Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid provided the foundation of entering into dialogue with partners from developing countries (Doc.  28, Starting out from a petition by aid organisations, development cooperation was also prominently positioned in the context of the celebrations on the occasion of Switzerland’s 700th anniversary. By help of a highly symbolic fund of 700 million CHF, the Federal Council intended to, on the one hand, fund debt relief measures for poorer developing countries and to contribute to environmental programmes and projects of global significance on the other (Doc. 59,   Youth Session demands a «solidary Switzerland» Finally, a solidary Switzerland was also demanded by the participants in Switzerland’s first Youth Session, happening in the context of the celebrations on the occasion of the 700th anniversary. «The young people roughly sketched a foreign-political action programme which was in line with the then common mood of opening up and awakening», explains Dodis Director Zala. Concerning Switzerland’s then and future foreign policy, they demanded Switzerland to act swiftly and as global pioneer: «We do care about what is happening in other countries of this world» (Doc.  43,
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Der Schweizer Bundespräsident Arnold Koller unterzeichnet am Gipfeltreffen der Teilnehmerstaaten der KSZE im November 1990 die Charta von Paris für ein neues Europa

Swiss Foreign Policy 1990: The new volume has arrived!

«The division of our continent becomes the subject of the past», proclaimed the President of the Swiss Confederation Arnold Koller at the Paris Summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): «What the peoples wished for a long time, starts: an era of collaboration between East and West with the goal to build a new, united Europe». (doc. 50, After the epochal upheavals of 1989, 1990 was also marked by the European turnaround. The democratic changes in Central and Eastern Europe, the disappearance of East-West antagonism and the reunification of Germany gave wings to the European idea. In the midst of these changes, Switzerland is being questioned about its neutrality, its role in the international community and its position on European integration. The new volume of Swiss Diplomatic Documents (DDS) sheds light on the major developments in Switzerland's international relations in 1990 through a selection of documents and a multitude of cross-references to other official sources as well as information from the online Dodis database. Visits from the East The fact that the «Epicenter of Western European politics» is shifting «slightly to the east» has not only been in connection with the reunification of the two German states (doc. 43, The policy of official visits also reflects this change. In February, Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski visits Bern (doc. 5, in the autumn, the Federal Council received the last head of the GDR government, Lothar de Maizière (doc. 35, finally there were meetings with Václav Havel, the icon of the «Velvet Revolution» in Czechoslovakia, (doc 54, and the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze (doc 58, With an initial framework credit of CHF 250 million, Switzerland also supported the transformation processes in Eastern Europe, first and foremost in Poland and Hungary, which were already the most advanced in the reform process (doc. 12, Is neutrality still in keeping with the times? On the question of the recognition of the independence of the three Baltic states, Switzerland held back. Driven by its policy of neutrality, Switzerland cautiously argues that the prerequisites for recognition are not yet present (doc. 61, «Significance, value, and meaning of neutrality as an institution of the international law and as a foreign policy maxim of Switzerland», were however increasingly questioned (doc. 24, Uncertainty is spreading with the advent of the new geopolitical situation following the abrupt end of the East-West conflict. In this context, neutrals and non-aligned parties are indeed losing their importance as they move away from their traditional role as mediators. This uncertainty has also had repercussions on the evaluation of Swiss security policy - the «Report 90», which is aimed in particular at a younger generation critical of the armed forces (doc. 19, Feelers put out with international organisations In general, the «Swiss Sonderfall» is being called into question; Liechtenstein's accession to the UN in September 1990 makes «the change in the relationship between Switzerland and the world organization» topical again (doc. 41, As part of a UN Transition Assistance Group peacekeeping operation in Namibia, Switzerland is carrying out a major engagement. It is thus taking a long-awaited step in the direction of «an increasing worldwide commitment to peacekeeping» (doc. 31, Switzerland also positioned itself confidently vis-à-vis the Bretton Woods institutions as well, and attempted to strengthen its accession to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank: In a «period of turning towards Europe, the normalization of the relationships to the institutions of Bretton Woods might accomplish a much needed and welcomed balance, as well as document the openness towards the world» (doc. 1, EEA or «colossal isolation» The pièce de résistance of Swiss foreign policy in 1990 remained the negotiations on the European Economic Area (EEA). The national government discussed various options - that Switzerland should remain outside the single market and that the Confederation should remain the «cavalier seul» in the long run seemed out of the question. The «middle course» of the EEA was seen by the Federal Councillors as «the only realistic opportunity» for Switzerland (doc. 8, They were striving for a solution «that maintained the harmony between the Swiss exceptionality and the participation in Europe», while being aware that the negotiations would not lead to a «solution that corresponds entirely with our hopes» (doc. 23, Nevertheless, at the end of the year, the Federal Council had mixed feelings about the negotiations: the EC treats Switzerland in an «unbearable» way, and it must find the courage to say no. This was countered internally: «The alternative for Switzerland would be a colossal isolation at a point in time when the EC holds much appeal» (doc. 56, Gulf crisis, economic relations and sanctions In addition to the European arena, the tense situation in the Middle East was a focal point of Swiss diplomacy, be it in terms of humanitarian aid or mediation services between parties to the conflict, for example in Israel/Palestine or Lebanon (doc. 47, Like the international community, Switzerland does not recognise the «annexation of Kuwait by Iraq that was inevitably against international law» (doc. 29, and took part - for the first time ever - in a UN sanctions. On the other hand, the Swiss government maintains its economic relations with South Africa's apartheid regime, even as Nelson Mandela urges Federal Councillor Felber in a conversation to reconsider Switzerland's rejection of international sanctions (doc. 25, On the other side of the Atlantic, the travels of Federal Councillor Delamuraz and his trade diplomats were influenced by the neoliberal turn that is sweeping the South American continent (doc. 26, et doc. 59, Cooperation with developing countries Although Switzerland concentrates its aid on Eastern Europe, it does not neglect development co-operation with «Third World» countries (doc. 39, Parliament thus approves a new framework credit of 3.3 billion CHF for the continuation of technical cooperation and financial aid to developing countries. However, the question of support for repressive regimes still arises. In Nepal and Rwanda, Switzerland calls for respect for human rights (doc. 14, et doc. 48, Switzerland - not a special case? Finally, the FDFA is in the throes of change: in addition to technical innovations, the field of international relations is expanding at an ever-increasing pace, creating new areas of activity. At the same time, Federal Councillor Felber sees his department as a mediator and a scout for a population that is perceived as ignorant: «We are here to convince our citizens that their care should neither stop at their doorstep nor at the border of our country – it is too small». It is therefore necessary to abandon the long-held view that Switzerland is a «Sonderfall»: «Switzerland, State, Nation, is no ‹Sonderfall›; it is a small piece of land on the European continent and it is a state that has the same responsibilities as all other states of this continent and of the world» (doc. 32,
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