Interview with H.E. Mr. Philippe Gérald GUEX

Recently, His Excellency Philippe Guex, Ambassador of Switzerland in the Czech Republic, has met the Prague Forum’representatives (Hans Weber, Milos Janu and Pietro Andrea Podda) at the Embassy. An interesting interview has followed. The Prague Forum thanks the Ambassador

1) What have been the main steps of your diplomatic career before coming to Prague?

My career has been essentially a European one as I have served in Luxembourg, London, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade and now in Prague. I have therefore experienced in particular each stage of our bilateral relations with the European Union and its member states. The only exception to this European career was my appointment as Head of the American Continent Division, a region where Switzerland has over 15 embassies. This led me to accompany the Swiss Foreign Minister to the White House to meet with a certain Joe Biden, then Vice President.

2) Which places have you visited in the Czech Republic?

Because of the pandemic, I am very frustrated that I have not yet had the opportunity to visit all regions of the country. Privately, I have been to Karlovy Vary, Marianské Lazné, Brno, Pilsen, Olomouc and Ostrava. And of course in the surroundings of Prague, notably Kutna Ora, Melnik or Kladno.

3) What are your favourite places in Prague?

Wherever you look, Prague is such a jewel of baroque and art nouveau architecture that it’s hard for me to say that I prefer this or that place. But it is clear that the beauty of Pražský Hrad with its panoramic view on the the city is breathtaking. So is the view from the walls of Vyšehrad. There are countless churches and palaces that are witnesses of a rich and prosperous past since the Middle Ages. On a personal note, I am a fan of the Airship Gulliver at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. In summary, few capitals in Europe, even in the world that can claim to rival Prague.

4) What are the main topics in the relationships between Switzerland and the Czech Republic?

Beyond the desire to strengthen political, economic and cultural relations between our two countries, the priorities of my mission are threefold. The first one is linked to our European policy. Like in any other EU member states, it is key to make the Swiss EU policy understood by the Czech government. Of course, we negotiate with the European Commission in Brussels, but the final decision lies with the EU member states, therefore the need to maintain regular communication at all levels of the Czech administration.

Secondly, Switzerland will finance a series of cohesion programs in the coming years in favor of the EU member states that joined in the early 2000s. In the case of the Czech Republic, over 1’500 millions Czech krona are earmarked to finance projects in the fields of environment, innovation and health.

Thirdly, the Czech Republic is a popular destination for Swiss companies, as Switzerland is the 6th largest foreign investor. Together with the Czech-Swiss Chamber of Commerce, the Embassy contributes to the promotion of trade and investments between our two countries.

5) How will be the future Swiss relations with the EU?

After the abandonment of the negotiations on the institutional framework agreement with Brussels, Switzerland intends to give a new impulse to its relations with the European Union which should be based on three axes. In the short term, our aim is to stabilize our bilateral relations to avoid a negative spiral by intensifying relations with the EU and its member states. In the medium term, we must lay the foundations for a structured political dialogue with the aim of clarifying how Switzerland and the EU want to shape their common future. Finally, in the long term, it will be a matter of establishing a stable partnership, in which we can resolve our differences together in a pragmatic way.

6) Banking, pharma, tourism, watches and chocolate are common stereotypes. What are the other drivers of the Swiss economy?

You have already mentioned a number of them. We often forget the textile industry which was at the origin not only of the industrialization of Switzerland in the 19th century, but also of the development of the machinery sector where Switzerland has become a world leader in terms of high technology, including in the field of robotics. To make a long story short, diversification features the Swiss economy.

7) What opportunities exist for Czech Small and Medium Sized Enterprises interested in the Swiss market?

Switzerland has strong clusters in life sciences, ICT and advanced engineering. Since we have the knowledge of all these sectors, we are especially strong in vertical integration technologies such as Biotech, Medtech, Fintech, Cyber Security, Robotics, Industrial Design and so on. Innovative Czech Small and Medium Sized Enterprises interested in the Swiss market should focus on these high potential growth industries.

Moreover, the shortage of production materials due to the pandemic has disrupted global supply and production chains. Based on this bad experience, quite a few Swiss companies are interested in the regionalization of global chains at the European level. The Czech Republic could play an important role in this regard due to its capabilities and geographical location.

8) Switzerland is a relatively small country with 4 official languages. How does multilinguism work?

A former Swiss President used to say that if Switzerland works it is because Swiss people do not understand each other. Joking aside, languages has never been through our whole history a topic of quarrel between us. The fact that no religion, be it Catholicism or Protestantism, could be assigned to a specific language has certainly preserved us from disunity, especially during the wars of religion in Europe.

9) Around 25-30 % of the Swiss population is composed by immigrants. How does cohabitation work?

Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Switzerland has for centuries experienced one form of immigration or another. But it was also a country of emigration until about the middle of the 19th century. Without the technological contribution of the Huguenots who fled France in the late 17th century, it is unlikely that Switzerland would be a great watchmaking nation today, or even that it would have been able to develop its textile industry. The economic history of Switzerland knows several examples where foreigners were at the origin of commercial successes or technological progress.

As far as the successful cohabitation with different foreign populations is concerned, I think that the Swiss know how of making several linguistic minorities coexist contributed to making populations of different origins live together in mutual understanding.  Moreover, particular care is given to the integration of foreigners and to prevent the creation of ghettos inhabited by foreign minorities.

10) How is Switzerland reacting to the pandemic? Different than other countries?

No country has a magic formula for fighting the Covid pandemic. If it did, we would know about it. Switzerland managed the first wave of the pandemic rather well, but the second wave was more complicated to control. On the other hand, Switzerland has been exemplary in its ability to allocate swiftly Covid loans to companies in need by using the know-how of the banks and the in-depth knowledge of their clients.

Author Hans Weber and Pietro Andrea Podda 

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