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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 10, 2005
INTERVIEW
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A Lively Exchange
February 10, 2005   
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Andre von Graffenried, Ambassador of Switzerland, talks to Dena R. Gurgul.


■ How would you characterize current Polish-Swiss relations?
I think they are quite good—there are no reasons to complain. I think, however, that there is a tendency for our country to be forgotten a little. It’s very understandable that the EU has been a major priority for Poland in recent years, not to mention their relations with Eastern neighbors and strategic partnership with the United States.

■ In what areas are bilateral relations strongest and which areas still have room for improvement?
In terms of political cooperation there were a lot of contacts in recent years. A few days ago President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski was at the World Economic Forum in Davos and last autumn he was received for a state visit in Switzerland. There were also many contacts on the level of ministers of the economy, foreign ministers and secretaries of state.

Economically, I think there is still unused potential. Switzerland is an important investor but only ranks 15th in Poland. If you compare this figure with countries such as Belgium or the Netherlands, their foreign direct investment in Poland is much greater.

Also, with respect to culture, we still don’t know one another very well. Therefore, I hope that the book fair at which we are a guest country will be a good opportunity to present Swiss culture.

■ Has Polish membership in the EU affected bilateral relations?
We cooperate very closely with Brussels, even though we are not an EU member, and we have concluded many agreements with the EU. Switzerland is also practically a member of the internal market of the EU, so with enlargement these agreements will be expanded to the new member states in the fields of trade, research, or transport. The most important agreement concerns the free movement of persons. Switzerland has also applied to join the Schengen Pact and we hope to join in 2007, at the same time as Poland. All this will bring our two countries together.

■ Will Switzerland join the EU?
I hope that day will come because the EU is something fantastic, to use a very simple word. Just last week I was in Auschwitz with the Swiss president for commemorations of the liberation of the camp. At such an event, or thinking back to the commemorations of the Warsaw Uprising last year Aug. 1 that were attended by President Kwa¶niewski and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, when we think what was happening in Europe 60 years ago and then see Poland and Germany becoming part of the same family, then you realize that the EU is something good. In the future I also hope Switzerland will become a member, since we are already quite integrated with other EU countries. We are also a multicultural country—like a mini Europe—and geographically our country is in the heart of Europe.

To be more concrete, the government will submit a report to the parliament at the end of 2006 concerning the advantages, risks, chances and opportunities of EU membership. This will be the basis for a new debate on EU membership in Switzerland. The question is always why Switzerland is not an EU member since it is so integrated. I believe there are two main reasons. First of all, our historical experiences as a neutral country allowed us to survive wars throughout history and avoid attack or invasion. People are hesitant to change something that has been so successful. Second, we are one of the few European countries that are not based on their own national culture and language. Instead we are part of three other European cultures: French, German and Italian. Many people fear that in a united Europe, Switzerland will just disappear. This is often an unconscious part of Euroskeptic attitudes in the country.

■ What goals would you like to accomplish during your term in office in Poland?
My most important objective regards the agreement on the free movement of persons. The referendum concerning the extension of this agreement to the new member states may take place next September. I hope very much that the Swiss people say yes to this referendum. Soon, I will travel to Switzerland and take part in a debate on these issues and make an attempt to persuade my compatriots.

The second goal is to increase economic relations. We will also make a special effort to support small and medium-sized businesses in investing or working with Polish partners.

My third goal is the meaningful use of the cohesion funds, which Switzerland committed itself to give to the new EU member states.

Finally, I hope that the book fair in Warsaw will be a good opportunity to present Switzerland and help make our culture better known in Poland.

■ Switzerland is the guest country at this year’s 50th Warsaw Book Fair. Will you focus on any particular author?
We are very happy that Switzerland was offered this great opportunity to present its rich tradition in book publishing as well as its lively and diverse literature. We want this event to celebrate Swiss publishing and arts. Apart from the traditional exhibition at the book fair proper, we are planning a series of cultural activities in Warsaw at the same time.

In literature, we will arrange a series of meetings between Polish and Swiss authors. The Swiss representation will be composed of poets and writers of all generations and from different linguistic backgrounds in Switzerland. The literary eminence of Hugo Loetscher (born 1929) will appear side by side with shooting stars such as Jürg Halter (born 1980); Sylviane Dupuis will read from her works in French, while Fabio Pusteria’s performances will be in Italian. Our main goal is to establish a dialogue between Polish and Swiss literature.

This lively exchange between Poland and Switzerland will also be maintained through an exhibition of five young artists linked with our country. The Museum für Gegenwartkunst Basel is organizing a collective show by Valentin Carron, Annelies Coste, Shahryar Nashat, Edit Oderbolz and Shirana Shahbazi at the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw’s Ujazdowski Castle. This exhibition focuses on the urban reality of Warsaw and will take a fresh look at the fascinating political, social and historical reality of the Polish capital.

Needless to say, we are also planning many more activities for this occasion and invite everyone to join us.
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