Swiss commitment to North Africa, one year later
Early last year, Switzerland responded quickly to political upheavals in Northern Africa. Realizing that major security, migration and economic interests depend on stable democratic conditions, Switzerland felt the need to actively support the democratic transition process in this region. On 11 March 2011, the Federal Council issued mandates to three Federal Departments to intensify their activities and quickly develop new and tangible support measures. The three Federal Departments were also instructed to act in a coordinated, coherent and complementary fashion. How does the support programme in Northern Africa look one year later and what has Switzerland achieved?
The following Federal Departments are involved in the support programme in Northern Africa: the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP), through the Federal Office for Migration (FOM); the Federal Department of Economic Affairs (FDEA), through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO); and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), through the Directorate of Political Affairs (DPA), the Directorate of Public International Law (DPIL) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The Swiss support programme in Northern Africa focuses on three key areas: easing the transition to democracy and improving the human rights situation; promoting economic growth and job creation; addressing migration issues and protecting particularly vulnerable persons. Until the end of 2010, Swiss activities in Northern Africa had been rather modest, with the exception of the SECO-sponsored programme in Egypt and the FDFA Human Security Division’s programme to promote human rights and peace policies in Egypt.
An annual budget of around CHF 57 million was set aside for implementation of the Federal Council’s decision: around CHF 4 million for democratic transition; some CHF 47 million for economic development; and around CHF 6 million for migration and protection.
In the twelve months since the Federal Council’s decision to sponsor a support programme in Northern Africa, numerous projects have been carried out. Despite the relatively short period of time, initial results have been achieved. The following aspects of the support programme are worth mentioning:
- Emergency relief and survival aid: when armed conflict broke out in Libya, nearly 1 million people fled the country to Tunisia and Egypt. Within a matter of days, Swiss Humanitarian Aid dispatched emergency response teams on the ground to distribute emergency food and sanitary supplies. In Benghazi, medical projects were implemented. At the same time, the FOM and the SDC provided funding to help migrant workers return to their home countries.
- Quick action to freeze assets of those formerly in power: Switzerland was the first country worldwide to freeze assets of prominent political figures in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Since then, Switzerland has been working with the authorities of these three countries to return misappropriated assets as quickly as possible.
- Broad-based support for the first free elections in Tunisia: the FDFA used a wide range of instruments to support free elections on 23 October. Switzerland, for example, funded the production of voting booths, and Swiss experts were among the international observers of the elections.
- Swiss expertise in demand: reform of the security sector is needed to restore public faith in the state and is therefore essential for a successful transition. Working with the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Switzerland has already launched security projects in Tunisia and Morocco to provide neutral and professional guidance on how security forces may be structured along democratic lines.
- SECO helps to create green jobs: in Tunisia, two sewage treatment plants will be built in the province of Kasserine, benefiting 40,000 people in two towns. Renewable energy initiatives are also sponsored. One such project seeks to provide 200 Tunisians with the training needed to install and maintain solar panels. Another project is encouraging 75 companies to adopt more sustainable production methods.
- Arbitration of business disputes: legal disputes between companies are drawn out and costly affairs that use up limited resources. For this reason, Switzerland supports a project in Egypt to offer third-party arbitration services as an alternative to lawsuits between companies. At the same time, Egypt will be positioned as a regional location for training in the arbitration of business disputes.
- 10,000 jobs in Egypt and Tunisia: economic recovery and job creation in Northern Africa are important and urgent objectives. In Egypt, Switzerland has lent support to a fish farm project that seeks to create 10,000 new jobs. In Tunisia, Switzerland seeks to create up to 10,000 jobs by helping young people and women in poor regions to establish small companies.
- Targeted cooperation in migration: Switzerland pursues a comprehensive approach to migration, which is highly appreciated by partner countries. Specific projects have either been launched or are currently in the pipeline. One completed project involved the provision of aid to people who had become stranded at the Libyan border. Switzerland seeks to establish a migration partnership with Tunisia that would enable migration flows to be managed and addresses the underlying causes of migration pressures. An important priority for Switzerland is improving conditions for the return of foreign nationals whose asylum applications have been rejected. This can be achieved through operational cooperation as well as through bilateral readmission agreements.
- Interdepartmental cooperation and joint programme offices: the FDJP, FDEA and the FDFA have been working closely together. In addition to creating operational synergies, they have also established joint Swiss programme offices in Egypt und Tunisia.
A year after the Federal Council’s decision, Switzerland has managed to position itself as a reliable and committed partner in North Africa. Switzerland has followed up its promises with concrete actions. By proceeding quickly, applying a comprehensive approach to migration and working in Tunesia’s interior, where the “Jasmin Revolution” began and the population is particularly disadvantaged, Switzerland has distinguished itself from other donors.
It can therefore be stated that the Federal Council’s objectives for the support programme in Northern Africa have been reached: solidarity has been shown to populations in the corresponding countries, and Swiss national interests have been furthered in the areas of security policy, energy policy and, especially, migration policy.
Political and social transformation in the region will be a slow process with numerous challenges and an uncertain outcome. Switzerland will closely monitor subsequent developments and is committed to creating the best possible conditions for a sustainable and successful transition. As things currently stand, projects to support Northern Africa are expected to continue until 2016.
Additional information about the support programme in Northern Africa as well as planned programmes and projects can be found in the following links: