Close your eyes for a couple of seconds and think about Switzerland. What do you see?
You probably visualize beautiful landscapes with blue lakes, green hills, happy cows and snow-capped mountains? You surely thought about cheese, chocolate, watches or banks? Fair enough, you will find all of these in Switzerland. They form an integral part of the country’s identity and the Swiss people are proud of their national icons.
Are your eyes still closed? What if you tried to look beyond these icons and think about Switzerland and its people, its economy and its role in Europe, the world – and in Bangladesh? Now, what do you see?
Let’s start with the basics. It is a small country, with less than 1/3 of Bangladesh’s surface and 5% of its population. Yet, in many aspects, Switzerland punches above its weight. The country’s economy ranks among the world’s top 20 and regularly leads on global innovation and competitiveness ratings. With many world-class universities and research institutions and a unique vocational education system that train youth “on the job”, Switzerland boasts one of the world’s most productive and innovative workforce. I am pretty sure that you heard about the internet, hand sanitizers or zippers? They were all invented in Switzerland.
Many believe that the basis for this success lies in the country’s decentralized political system - with 26 cantons each having their own constitution and parliament - and participative direct democracy, where citizens can collectively propose or veto new laws by launching popular initiatives or challenging parliament through referendums. This system may often seem cumbersome and, indeed, change often comes slowly to the country. Women’s right to vote on national issues, for example, was established only in 1971. However, the ability to elect representatives and directly influence policies on all levels of government also creates accountability as well as a creative internal competition for resources and ideas. Many believe that Geneva, home to the United Nations’ operational headquarters and over two hundred international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is Switzerland’s capital - it is actually Berne - and that the country is a member of the European Union – it is not. Located in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is neither member of the EU nor of the European Economic Area, but the country is nevertheless integrated in the European single market and the Schengen area through a set of over 100 bilateral agreements. As a neutral country, Switzerland is not a member of any military or defense alliance. The country therefore pursues an independent foreign policy driven by its values of neutrality, universality, rule of law, sustainability and solidarity. Switzerland is committed to a strong and effective multilateral system, placing human dignity and security at the center of its international engagement. With its candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2023-24, Switzerland is ready to step up its commitment and take on even more responsibility on the global stage.
How does this all translate into Switzerland’s 50-year long presence in Bangladesh? Since establishing diplomatic relations in March 1972, Switzerland has invested over 1 billion USD in Bangladesh’s development and provided millions more of humanitarian aid in times of crisis. Swiss companies have invested even more, providing employment to thousands and Swiss quality products and services to millions in Bangladesh. Trade between the countries has tripled over the past decade and is set to reach the symbolic milestone of 1 billion USD soon. Through the promotion of good governance, rule of law, human rights and ease of doing business, Switzerland continues to partner with Bangladesh on its path towards a stable, just and prosperous future that leaves no one behind.