According to Bern, Switzerland’s budget for International Geneva is to be increased by CHF 44.8 million annually from 2016-2019. Seeking to strengthen the country’s role as premier host to the United Nations, the Federal Council plans to dish out a total of CHF 117.2 million over the three-year period.
While the UN headquarters operates as the “political hub” out of New York, the Lake Geneva region serves as the leading focal point for the UN community with over 40 agencies and programmes present. There are also well over 300 non-governmental entities dealing with humanitarian, environmental, human rights, telecommunications, mountain and other key global issues. Geneva itself is the world’s sixth most important financial centre, but also acts as a crucial international mediation and arbitration hub.
Countries such as Denmark and Germany have been vying hard to usurp Geneva’s role with tempting offers of funding and facilities. Bonn managed to abduct the UN Volunteers (UNV) from Geneva in 1996, while Copenhagen’s new UN City has brought together eight UN agencies, including UN Women in 2010. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month decided to move its fund-raising operations to Denmark, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) and World Health Organization (WHO) earlier relocated select administrative operations to Budapest and Kuala Lumpur respectively.
All this has finally got the Swiss worried. The new proposal now being discussed by parliament, plans to channel the funding to improving building and technological infrastructure, plus initiatives to foster better “interaction” between the various international and national actors. “In today’s increasingly competitive environment, the Swiss government wishes to enable International Geneva to continue to be a unique platform for the effective promotion of its interests and values,” the Federal Council announced. What is lacking, however, is mention of Swiss support for media as the most effective means for highlighting Geneva’s role.