At the second Parliamentary Foreign Policy Day on 8 September, some 40 members of the National Council and the Council of States discussed the law and politics of neutrality. In view of the topic, the event was attended by members of the Foreign Affairs Committees (FAC), delegations from the Federal Assembly responsible for relations with the parliamentary assemblies of international organisations and neighbouring states, as well as members of the Political Institutions Committees (PIC).
The event, which arose from the desire to strengthen coordination and exchanges between the various parliamentary bodies dealing with foreign policy issues, was led by the presidents of the FACs, National Council member Franz Grüter (SVP/LU) and Council of States member Pirmin Bischof (The Centre/SO). It addressed issues such as possible forms of cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for neutral states, the latter's sanctions policies, and the problem of compatibility between neutrality and the export of military equipment.
The first part of the event was devoted to the experiences of neutrality of two other European countries, Finland and Austria, and how they have addressed recent or current challenges, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Two experts from these two countries informed the parliamentarians about developments in and specificities of the Finnish and Austrian neutrality models.
- Peter Hilpold, Professor of International Law, European Law and Comparative Public Law at the University of Innsbruck, explained the foundations of Austrian neutrality and drew parallels with Switzerland. He also spoke about the different phases of the development of Austrian neutrality; Austria's accession to the European Union (EU), in particular, has had a tangible impact on its neutrality. The consequences for Austrian neutrality of applying sanctions against Russia, linked to its aggression against Ukraine, were also discussed.
- Johanna Rainio-Niemi, Professor of Political History at the University of Helsinki, presented the characteristics of Finnish neutrality and how these have allowed Finland to distinguish itself on the international scene. She explained that Finnish neutrality was a political choice imposed by the context of the Cold War and that its evolution had been shaped by the country's relations with Russia. She added that the Swiss neutrality model had played an important role in Finland's neutrality policy and that the latter had been definitely abandoned after the country's accession to the EU. She concluded by pointing out that there is no single model of neutrality and that it is therefore inconsistent.
The second thematic block focused on Swiss neutrality and its historical and legal dimensions. The aim was to understand the rationale for neutrality, as well as the context in which it exists.
- Matthieu Gillabert, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Fribourg, first presented the stages of Swiss neutrality and the way it was shaped by the two world wars and the Cold War in particular. In doing so, he emphasised the importance of conflicts in the evolution of Swiss neutrality. He also noted the malleability of neutrality policy, which is easily adaptable, and how it impacts on identity and image. Disagreements, or splits, on the different interpretations of neutrality were also discussed.
- Marco Sassòli, Professor of International Law at the University of Geneva, explained the distinction between the law of neutrality and the policy of neutrality, and the obligations under the law of neutrality in the event of a violation of international law, especially the use of military force. He also questioned the need for Switzerland to remain neutral. In this connection, he emphasised the link between peace and neutrality and the fact that, if neutrality were to be abandoned, this would have consequences for Switzerland's position in future conflicts.
The event, which had been planned for several months, took place the day after a Federal Council meeting at which decisions on neutrality and security policy were taken.
From left to right: Franz Grüter (President FAC-N), Marco Sassòli, Peter Hilpold, Matthieu Gillabert, Johanna Rainio-Niemi, Pirmin Bischof (President FAC-S)