by Simon Bradley in Geneva, swissinfo.ch
International Geneva is described as a sprawling mansion that needs modernising. But the challenges are daunting: budgetary pressures, fluctuating exchange rates, insecurity, housing and office shortages, and an urgent need for renovation.
Former Swiss ambassador François Nordmann tells swissinfo.ch the federal and cantonal authorities need a much more proactive strategy to address these and other issues.
swissinfo.ch: Before Didier Burkhalter took over from Micheline Calmy-Rey as Swiss foreign minister at the start of 2012, you wrote an editorial in Le Temps newspaper warning of “clouds darkening the future of International Geneva”. Are you still as gloomy?
François Nordmann: There was some uncertainty over the handover and changes at the head of the Swiss foreign ministry due to the fact that Calmy-Rey had very shrewdly invested a great deal of time and effort in International Geneva.
I think today we can all be reassured. Burkhalter’s first moves have been to pursue Calmy-Rey’s activities. I don’t think there’ll be any new academic or Global Humanitarian Forum-like initiatives, but Switzerland will do its utmost to develop and consolidate what exists – which is already quite a sizeable task.
swissinfo.ch: What are some of the main challenges he and the Geneva authorities are facing?
F.N.: One of the main problems for International Geneva is partly linked to the strong Swiss franc, with organisations defending themselves by relocating or reducing jobs.
Another problem that everyone says is a priority is insecurity, which has got worse. For local residents, there has been an increase [in the number of incidents], and every week there are cases of diplomats or their family members being attacked. That’s new. Geneva is safer than many other cities, but it’s much less safe than it was ten years ago.
Then there is the question of housing, which is not something we can resolve easily. But it’s a growing concern given the competition between the public sector and multinationals, which represent one quarter of Geneva’s gross domestic product.
And then there is infrastructure. Five years ago, we promised some 20 diplomatic missions from less-developed countries which have been unable to come here that we would build them offices and residences. This has still not been done.
We need to accelerate things as it could damage Geneva’s ability to hold conferences… all 193 UN members should be present.