Switzerland Holds a Unique Political System and Our System Came from The Influence of Our History
An interview with Ms Sabine Ulman Shaban, Ambassador of the Switserland to Azerbaijan
AT: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan. Are you satisfied with the level of political and economic relations between Switzerland and Azerbaijan?
21 January 1992 is when Switzerland recognized Azerbaijan as an independent state. Personally I’m very much satisfied with the level of political and economical relations between our two countries. High level meetings take place on a regular basis. The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan went to Switzerland in 2009 for an official visit and is a regular guest of the World Economic Forum in Davos. This January Azerbaijan organized a special event dedicated to Azerbaijan and its culture in Davos. Political and economical consultations are taken place on a very regular basis between our two countries and allow to deepen the relations and to discuss together new fields of activities and development.
2011, the year I began my assignment was particularly rich in political bilateral events. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Mrs Micheline Calmy-Rey came in March 2011 for a two days visit which allowed her to pay a visit to Nakhchivan and to visit a project of the Swiss Cooperation. She was impressed by the achievements of the country and by the successful mixture of old and new buildings in the city of Baku. The Vice-President, Mrs Widmer-Schlumpf paid also a visit to Baku and had interesting talks with the president on many issues and among all on the International Finance Organizations. In November our Minister of Environment, Transport, Communications and Energy came for discussions on the field of Environment and Energy.
At the business level, Switzerland is proud to have in Baku a majority of important Swiss companies represented. In October 2011, for the first time since the opening of the Embassy an important delegation of more than 40 Swiss Business people came to Baku for intensive and comprehensive exchanges on different fields with different Azerbaijani companies and with the government to strengthen the trade between our two countries in a variety of fields. The experience was a big success and it’s not excluded to repeat it also in 2012. High level delegation from Switzerland came to the Oil and Gas Show and Conference in June 2011.
Nevertheless, between Azerbaijan and Switzerland, energy is an important topic but not the only one, even if Azerbaijan is among the four principal oil exporters for Switzerland. Switzerland and Azerbaijan share a lot of common interests: Topics related to development, to renewable energies, to the organization of the Bretton woods institutions, cultural and academic exchanges. In a nutshell, Switzerland and Azerbaijan have diverse and multiple relationships.
The Swiss Embassy in Baku is participating to different events which show the variety and diversity of our culture, or traditions and our food/cuisine. Last year Swiss Alphorn players (picture) – a typical Swiss instrument – even played in the Old City of Baku during the celebrations of the Swiss National Day. More recently exchanges between universities have taken place and very soon Switzerland is going to extend its scholarship program to students from Azerbaijan. Some Swiss authors have been translated in Azeri language – which shows the interest of Azerbaijan for Switzerland. I’m proud to say that more and more Azerbaijani students are studying in Switerland. It’s a good and important trend.
AT: History of the relationships in the last 5 years:
Switzerland recognized Azerbaijan on 21 January 1992 and established since this date diplomatic relations. 2006 a liaison office was open and 2008 the new Embassy located in the old City of Baku was officially inaugurated by the President of the Swiss Confederation. Swiss Cooperation was already developing projects in Azerbaijan since 2001.
Since the opening of the Embassy, which is also in charge of Turkmenistan, the high level visits and meetings increased substantially. I’m convinced that only personal contacts allow us to know each other better and to appreciate each other. Important Swiss companies are on the Azerbaijani market. Maybe more will come in the future. These companies are working in different segments from cement to pharmaceutical products, from reinsurance to control of quality. One of themajor Swiss Company, Holcim, which is celebrating 100 years in 2012 is an important company for Switzerland and for Azerbaijan. The president of Azerbaijan will attend in July 2012 the opening ceremony of the New Dry Kiln of Garadagh Cement. It is the most important non oil investment in the country.
More recently Nüssli has been choosen for designing the Crystall Hall which will be the hosting place for the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s also an achievement of Swiss know how.
AT: Azerbaijan is an energy-rich country. How do you evaluate Azerbaijan’s role in Europe’s energy security?
Baku was the first city where oil was industrially exploited. 1994, thanks to the contract of the century, oil and also gas have found access to the European market – and to Switzerland. It was important as well as for Azerbaijan as for Europe. Since then new gas fields have been discovered. One of them, Shah Deniz II will operate very soon. It means that Azeri gas will arrive directly to the Swiss and European market. Azerbaidjan is playing an important role in energy security and it is conscious about the role it has to play.
For Switzerland, diversification of sources of approvisonnement is essential – in gas and oil. The opening of the southern Corridor is a big asset for Switzerland. One of the project which may play a big role is the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) which Switzerland is supporting. In February 2012 it has been choosen in a first stage by Shah Deniz Consortium. This first decision in favor of TAP is a positive sign for our country.
AT: Twenty years ago, investment by Swiss companies in Azerbaijan together with well-known European companies was perceived as normal among us, Azerbaijanis. Today Azerbaijan’s SOCAR is investing in the Swiss economy along with Georgia, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey and is opening fuel stations. Do you think this factor shows that the Azerbaijani economy will continue to grow in the near future?
Recently President Ilham Aliyev announced that Azerbaijan is not only a benefit recipient but just as well a donor state. This is an important fact for Azerbaijan. At present time it is difficult to make an economical prediction for the future. What is sure is that shows what we call globalization. Switzerland is proud that Azerbaijan has chosen Switzerland and particularly Geneva to establish the SCOAR Trading Company. SOCAR Trading was happy with the overall conditions Geneva was offering Geneva. With the acquisition of ESSO Suisse (EXXON), Azerbaijani market share in Switzerland has increased and it’s a new path in the direction of strengthening our relations.
AT: For its economic indicators, Azerbaijan is really a leader in the region. Politically Switzerland has very special political system. Could Switzerland be an example in for Azerbaijan?
Switzerland holds a unique political system and our system came from the influence of our history. It’s why it’s difficult to say if it may apply to Azerbaijan which has a complete different historical experience than Switzerland. Swiss people are dedicated to their system of government. It’s also one of the reasons they are hesitating to entering the European Union. Direct Democracy, it means that the population first of all has to vote on big issues but also has the right to put to the vote important issues for the country and the people. The different provinces, called cantons are sovereign entities with their own parliament and executive authorities.
AT: Switzerland is one of Europe’s oldest tourist destinations. Azerbaijan regards tourism as one of its priority spheres. Do you think the experience of Swiss businessmen can help develop tourism in Azerbaijan?
S.U.: The experiences of others countries are without any doubt a precious backing. The exchanges with Swiss insiders and organizations which are active in tourism have to be intensified and strengthened. Switzerland disposes of very good schools for hotel business and tourism. I assert with pleasure that more and more Azeri’s study in these institutions. This is a positive aspect of the exchanges between our countries. It is a major asset in the domain of tourism to have well-formed managers and specialists in hotel business. Azerbaijan features without any doubt necessary potential to become a touristic country with its impressive diversity of climate and landscapes. The Caucasus has many things to offer and the Eurovision Song Contest will initiate an interest for Azerbaijan abroad. I hope that numerous Swiss citizens will come to take part in its discovery.
AT: Although Switzerland borders on a number of EU countries, it is not a member of the EU and seems to be in no hurry to join it. How can you explain the reason for that?
Switzerland and Europe signed a Treaty of free exchange in 1972. There are also more than 130 agreements signed between Switzerland and the European Union. Switzerland stands out with a very specific political system and attaches big importance to its direct democracy. This explains why Switzerland has chosen politics of bilateral agreements in its relation with the European Union. This may be astounding sometimes but it refers to the opinion of the majority of the Swiss population who prefers the politics of sectorial agreements.
Swiss people had to manifest their opinion on European matters already seven times. Switzerland is the only country where the people itself expressed themselves about the enlargement of the European Union. The Swiss Federal Council in its last report about the relations between Europe and Switzerland has been evocative on the bilateral way as the most appropriate instrument for the european policy of Switzerland.
This means that the relations of Switzerland with the European Union are defined through different agreements in a variety of fields. Switzerland is in the heart of Europe. It is interconnected with European countries and cannot ignore that the European Union commercially spoken is the principal economic partner of Switzerland.