#9 The G|O Briefing, August 25, 2020

Beirut in pain and Geneva Cities Hub

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

Today in the Geneva Observer, we bring you a slightly longer read on the UN’s response to the Beirut Port Explosion. We talk about the importance for the UN of shifting the discussion away from response and toward prevention, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction.

But first, the Geneva Cities Hub is officially being launched this evening (August 25, 2020). As we have previously reported, the hub is supported by the holy trinity (the Swiss Confederation, the Republic and Canton of Geneva, and the City.) The Mayor of Geneva Sami Kanaan is spearheading the project.

Involved in the hub and its launch event are a Swiss who’s who of institutional International Geneva: Mayor Kanaan, of course, as well as Tatiana Valovaya, Head of the UN Office in Geneva, and Ambassador Yannick Roulin (head of the Host State division at the Swiss Mission to the UN in Geneva). On the board (other than Sami Kanaan) are Olivier Couteau, the Cantonal office’s delegate to International Geneva, and his boss, Beatrice Ferrari, Cantonal Director for International Affairs. As a “platform of urban actors,” the potential for the Geneva Cities Hub is pretty big. From urban planning to implementing the 2030 Agenda to linking global governance and local action, the Hub intends to bridge the gap. While we always call International Geneva an ecosystem, it is also, of course, an instrument of Swiss foreign policy.

International Geneva is very much a federal prerogative, and the City tends to be a junior partner working in tandem with the Cantonal and Federal authorities.

Ambassador Zellweger—the head of Switzerland’s mission to the UN in Geneva until this summer—in a final interview in his role with Stéphane Bussard (LeTemps, paywall (Fr)), said that over his four-year mandate, he has seen the International Geneva scene get richer and move away from a dynamic where everyone works in silos to more of an ‘ecosystem.’

With Samir Yeddes, First Secretary at the Swiss Mission in Geneva, currently responsible for the implementation of Switzerland’s foreign policy regarding think tanks and platforms, Ambassador Zellweger also penned a Geneva Global Policy Brief™ for the University of Geneva’s Centre for European Legal Studies (Centre d’études juridiques européennes), on 'International Geneva as a Laboratory of Agile Global Governance.’  While they are both writing in their own capacity, it gives a good indication of Bern’s policy for International Geneva.

In their brief, they write that “Geneva offers a neutral space where all stakeholders—researchers and practitioners, from the private and public sectors—exchange and cross-fertilize ideas.” While we are happy to see silos go and horizontal replace vertical. But we must admit to wondering how coherent and consistent such a network of hubs, platforms, and conveners can actually be. It certainly makes sense in the manufacturing of an instrument of Swiss soft power and public diplomacy, it is not yet clear how efficient and meaningful it will be on a larger scene.

International cooperation assumes many forms, and neutrality seems to have been suspended in this case:  On Sunday, as  China is increasing its crackdown on dissidents internally and in Hong Kong, in a piece of disquieting news, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported (paywall (De)) that Chinese security agents are allowed to freely operate in Switzerland in their efforts to identify illegal Chinese citizens. They do so under a heretofore undisclosed five-year-long administrative agreement that will expire at the end of this year and is currently being renegotiated by both countries. Neither side is commenting.

According to the NZZ am Sonntag, Chinese agents may spend up to two weeks in Switzerland without any “official status.” The newspaper reports that at least one such mission occurred in 2016 and resulted in the deportation of 13 Chinese to their homeland. The residency papers of nine of them were found to be invalid. Four had been denied an asylum request.

Switzerland pays for the costs of the Chinese agents’ mission. The Socialists and the Greens are firmly opposed to the extension of the agreement, concluded in 2015 without consultation of Parliament. For Fabian Molina, a member of the lower House Foreign Affairs Committee, quoted by the Zurich Sunday paper, “The agreement with China is absolutely unacceptable. It may not be extended. Cooperation in criminal matters presupposes that the partner state is a constitutional state. That is not the case with China.” Since its existence was revealed, several NGOs have also expressed their opposition to the agreement and its extension.

The controversy might grow over the fall. Bern will have to face some harsh questions about this agreement. We understand the Swiss Government is working on a revised policy towards China in light of Beijing’s crackdown. And finally, the new government-sponsored information platform ‘Geneva Solutions’ launched yesterday. It, too, is being supported by the holy trinity mentioned above.