Bilateral agreements will remain the basis of relations between Switzerland and EU countries, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told EurActiv ahead of hosting the thirteenth international Francophonie summit.
"For the time being, bilateral relationships will remain the best way for Switzerland to establish its position in Europe," Calmy-Rey told EurActiv.
Asked whether Switzerland wanted to imitate Iceland and join the European Union in the wake of the financial and economic crises, the foreign minister replied: "Applying to join the EU isn’t really on the agenda."
Switzerland has found itself in the eye of the storm during the ongoing crises amid concerns over the transparency of its banking system.
The foreign minister said Switzerland "would like to be directly involved in the future work of the G20," particularly where financial regulation was concerned.
Speaking out against efforts to introduce a global banking tax, she said "Switzerland takes the view that [such a tax] is not the most effective way to ensure financial stability" and was instead counting on private equity and strict liquidity regimes.
Heads of state and government from around 70 French-speaking countries will descend upon the Swiss city of Montreux for the thirteenth Francophonie summit, set to take place on 22-24 October.
French-speaking countries' position in a new global economic governance framework, climate change and food security, and the French language and education in a globalised world will be among the main issues to be addressed by leaders in Montreux, Calmy-Rey said.
Meanwhile, she expressed her conviction that French will retain its status "at the heart of the EU institutions". She rejected suggestions that the EU could draw from the experiences of her own country, which has four official languages but uses French in its external relations.
"It is certainly not for Switzerland to give lessons. With its 23 official languages, the EU’s situation isn’t really comparable to ours," the Swiss foreign minister said.
Calmy-Rey outlined three initiatives that Switzerland intends to put forward at the summit.
"The first will aim to formalise relations between francophone ambassadors with the main actors in francophone cooperation in their countries of residence via ‘Groups of friends of la Francophonie," she said.
Secondly, Switzerland will back a Lausanne polytechnic’s bid to establish a francophone network of excellence in the engineering sciences, and thirdly, it will seek to put in place a consultation process to boost mutual understanding between francophone cultures, the minister explained.
Asked what role she saw for the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) in promoting global economic governance, Calmy-Rey said the Francophonie platform was "a useful forum for exchanging views" on the matter.
However, she was quick to stress that the economies of French-speaking countries were very different from one another and "the absence of common characteristics does not […] give them a specific role to play as francophone countries as such".
Calmy-Rey refuted suggestions that the OIF was marginalising itself by focusing too heavily on boosting the French language, insisting that "la Francophonie has a genuine capacity to influence" by promoting cultural and linguistic diversity, citing the notion of 'the cultural exception' in GATT trade rules and the UNSECO convention on promoting and protecting cultural diversity as examples.
Moreover, the Swiss foreign minister said "the OIF is heavily involved in promoting democracy and human rights".