In addition to its constitutional foreign policy mandate to promote human rights, security and peaceful coexistence in the world, Switzerland has a major interest in stable and democratic structures in North Africa and the Middle East, and in view of this it wants to actively accompany and support the transition towards democracy in this region. Switzerland’s interests concern the areas of security and migration policy, as well as economic and energy policy issues.
Since the outbreak of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, Switzerland has entered into commitments at various levels, and the Federal Council now wants to implement an overall strategy for supporting transition processes in the region. Its plans include measures in the areas of humanitarian aid, migration, structural reform, economic development and reduction of poverty. For the associated projects and actions, as an initial step the sum of 12 million Swiss francs has been reserved from the budget of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). From the budget of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), 20 to 30 million Swiss francs per annum have been earmarked for development cooperation activities in the southern Mediterranean region in 2011 and 2012.
Swiss Humanitarian Aid is already intensifying its efforts in the region. In addition to deploying additional experts, for example in the area of medical assistance, other projects are planned in the areas of water use and the provision of accommodation and assistance to migrants on the border between Libya and Egypt. It is continuing to support the international organisations that are currently active here (ICRC, IOM and WFP), and a Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit programme office is to be opened in Benghazi.
At the same time, the Federal Council intends to promote the development of democratic and rule of law structures in Egypt and Tunisia. Switzerland is willing to deploy an expert to assist with the preparation of free elections and act as an election monitor. In the same context, Switzerland will also offer projects aimed at strengthening civil society. And after elections have been held, it intends to offer reform projects aimed at promoting democracy, human and fundamental rights, and rule of law.
In the areas of poverty reduction and economic development in the region, Switzerland is focusing its efforts on promoting the private sector (i.e. small and medium-sized companies) and the financial sector. The SDC is supporting vocational training according to the requirements of the respective labour markets. Furthermore, together with international players, local authorities and civil society, Switzerland wants to help improve the use of the scarce water resources in the region and secure their more efficient and fair use by implementing suitable initiatives. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which has been providing support in the region amounting to more than 9 million Swiss francs per annum, is to continue pursuing its commitment, specifically in the area of infrastructure.
In the wake of the most recent developments, the Federal Council has ordered the blocking of assets held in Switzerland by politically exposed persons from North Africa. This means that Switzerland has an even greater interest in the rapid instigation of criminal proceedings so that illegally acquired assets can be returned without delay. For this reason, Switzerland is also examining the extent to which it can support the involved countries in the areas of justice and official legal assistance.
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