For US President Joe Biden, the first International Democracy Summit on Thursday and Friday is a prestigious foreign policy project. But many of the uninvited governments are getting off the hook for the virtual summit – particularly China and Russia. Switzerland, however, is invited: it will be represented by Federal President Guy Parmelin.
Guy Parmelin (SVP) was elected to the National Council for the first time in 2003. On the occasion of the General Elections to the Federal Council in 2015, he was elected to the Federal Council succeeding resigned Evelyn Widmer Schlumpf (BDP). He has been Head of the Federal Department of Economics, Education and Research since January 1, 2019. 2021 is his first presidential year.
SRF News: Was it clear to Switzerland from the start that they would accept Biden’s invitation?
Guy Parmelin: Obviously to me, it’s always been clear that Switzerland, with its unique democracy, is at this summit. We have a lot to contribute to our history and experience. And our constitution states that we want to promote democracy. This summit presents a good opportunity for that.
Do you think this democracy summit makes sense, the first ever international democracy summit?
I think it is good for democratic countries to exchange ideas on the subject of democracy. Switzerland has a lot to say about this, thanks to its 700-year democratic history and direct democracy since 1848. So we have a wealth of experience. Also with our elections and with the votes roughly every four months, which requires us to have basic discussions on central political issues. I think it is good and important to share such experiences with other countries.
Although cultures are different, we in Switzerland have the common will to live together according to the democratic rules of our choosing.
You say that Switzerland is an old and well-established democracy. From this perspective, what would your message be to the Summit participants and thus to the global audience as well?
Sometimes one underestimates how much democracy brings social stability, peace, and justice. In addition, freedom, and especially as a Swiss, one must say, prosperity too. These are facts. Although cultures are different, we in Switzerland have the common will to live together according to the democratic rules of our choosing. German-speaking Switzerland, French-speaking Switzerland, Ticino: This diversity is a great strength. It also enables creativity and innovation.
US President Joe Biden is organizing this summit because he is very concerned about democracy, because he sees it threatened around the world, and he fears that authoritarian regimes will increasingly gain the upper hand. Do you share this concern?
Yes sure. We see that democracy is under pressure in some parts of the world. According to surveys conducted by the think tank Freedom House, the level of democracy has been declining every year around the world – for 15 years in a row. About 75 percent of people live in countries that are not only partially or undemocratic.
These countries and their governments in particular are not invited to the summit of democracy. Could such a summit have an impact on these governments? Or will they stand defiantly and say: Are we not interested in anything?
It is, of course, difficult to estimate. But I hope that this summit will have a substantial positive impact. We must be committed to democracy, this is part of our mission. In doing so, we are committed to one thing and not against others. We want to show that democracy has a positive impact on economic growth and peaceful coexistence. So democracy is worth it.
I hope the discussion sparks something. But don’t expect too much.
The important message from the summit should be that all countries do their part. We in Switzerland also have to preserve and renew our democracy. We’re not perfect either. Just one example: women have only had the right to vote in our country since 1971 – and that came a little later.
Do you have specific expectations for this summit?
It’s the first time this has happened. So it is good that democracy is now being discussed everywhere. Some support it, others against it. I hope the discussion sparks something, moves something. But of course you shouldn’t expect too much.
The interview was conducted by Freddy Gesteiger.
“Typical entrepreneur. Lifelong beer expert. Hipster-friendly internet buff. Analyst. Social media enthusiast.”