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Swiss sanctions – “There was certainly pressure, but that’s also a pragmatic way” – News

Last week, the Federal Council hesitated to impose tough sanctions on Russia. He referred to Switzerland’s neutrality and its possible role as a mediator. Switzerland is now adopting the EU sanctions comprehensively, including those against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin explains how the change of course came about and what this means for Switzerland in the “Interview on the day”.


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Guy Parmelin (SVP) was first elected to the National Council in 2003. In the Federal Council elections in 2015, he was elected to the government to succeed Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (BDP), who had resigned. Parmelin has been head of the Federal Department of Economics, Education and Research since January 1, 2019. 2021 was his first year as president.

Federal Councilor Parmelin, you met Vladimir Putin in Geneva last year. Today, Switzerland is positioning itself unequivocally – as a neutral country. How do you think Mr. Putin will react to this?

Guy Parmelin: We’ll see, but of course the situation is very different now. Since then, a war has broken out between two countries. Russia attacked Ukraine. That violates international law. And you have to react to that.

Until recently, you as the Federal Council were against such strict sanctions. Why this turnaround?

We analyzed the situation. You are right, since 2014 – the Crimea affair – we had decided that the sanctions of the EU could not be circumvented by Switzerland. And here you can see that it’s very complicated. The situation developed very quickly. That is why the Federal Council decided today that it is better to accept the sanctions. This does not mean that we would do this automatically. Rather, that we analyze on a case-by-case basis. But for clarity and effectiveness it is better.

Can’t we just say that the domestic and international pressure on Switzerland has become too great?

No. There was certainly pressure, but that’s also a pragmatic way. That was a balancing of interests that we did in the Federal Council and then we made a decision.

That was a balancing of interests that we did in the Bundesrat, and then we made a decision.

The Federal President said on Friday that Switzerland should play a different role as a mediator. Now she is taking this step with stronger sanctions. What has changed?

Neutrality does not mean just remaining passive. International law plays a role, of course, as do legal and political assessments of neutrality. The Federal Council has taken this into account. And he wants to see where you have to position yourself. If the two sides ask us to help them, that’s always possible. But of course that is a decision of both parts that are currently at war.

Does that mean you haven’t given up hope of negotiations yet?

No, we’ll see. It’s a war – again – you can’t say nothing and take a position.

This step has consequences, not only for Russia, but also economically for Switzerland. How high is the risk for the economy and the Swiss financial center?

Of course, there are always consequences in a war. Directly or indirectly, for the economy, for our financial center. But it is difficult to say today that these consequences will come. I will give just one example: Russia and Ukraine are two of the most important wheat producers in the world. You have already seen that prices on the world market have risen sharply. On another level, we are already seeing consequences: you have seen the US sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The people who work for it in the canton of Zug have been dismissed.

It’s a war – you can’t say nothing and take a position.

As Economics Minister, you were not at the media conference of the Federal Council today. Were there disagreements in the Federal Council?

No, absolutely not. We cannot appear with five, six, seven federal councillors. We have to make a choice and have chosen my colleague Maurer. A large proportion of the sanctions have an effect on the financial level. He is not responsible, but an expert in this matter. And I have to remind you: there are other packages of sanctions coming, for example with dual-use goods. I’m sure you’ll have the pleasure of seeing me again at a press conference, very likely very soon.

The interview was conducted by Larissa Rhyn.

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