ATHENS – “For us, international law is a central issue because, as a small country, we must be able to rely on the strength of the law. I believe that we agree on this position with Greece,” the new Swiss Ambassador to Greece, Stefan Estermann, said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
“Switzerland considers that the legal status of the Greek islands in the Aegean is clearly set out in the relevant international agreements. The issues related to the precise delineation of the maritime borders of the Exclusive Economic Zones must be settled peacefully and through dialogue with bilateral agreements, as Greece did with Egypt and Italy in 2020. This clearly shows that sustainable agreements are possible if there is a will for them” he noted and added: “Threats, unilateral measures and the creation of accomplished facts obviously do not help. If, despite all this, solutions cannot be found, there are ways through international courts or arbitration. Threats of war and the threat to use force are impermissible and unacceptable. The status of the islands in the Aegean is clearly settled by international law and Greek sovereignty over the islands in question is beyond dispute”.
Regarding migration, ambassador Estermann stressed that “Switzerland is closely following the developments and has observed an increase in irregular migration from Turkey toward Greece, Italy and Cyprus in recent months. In order to protect human lives, the goal of every state entity must be to observe international obligations and at the same time to fight the illegal human trafficking networks. Only in this way can we avert tragedies such as those that have happened near Lesvos and Kythera, as well as at the land border. Switzerland and Greece have been cooperating on migration for several years now. Switzerland has financed projects and participated in EU relocation programmes. Another milestone was reached on October 14, when the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police, Karin Keller-Sutter, and Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, signed an agreement in Luxembourg that foresees for the contribution of 40 million Swiss francs to support asylum facilities, voluntary returns and integration measures in Greece.”
Regarding bilateral relations between the two countries, the Swiss ambassador noted that “one cannot describe them as anything but excellent. I want to continue to build on them and make further use of the possibilities. For me, it is a fact of primary importance that our two countires are European nations and part of the richness and diversity of this continent. It is together, also, that we must face the future, something that, as is well known, is not without great challenges. Consequently, my aim is to conduct with our Greek partners a broader dialogue on European policy, without excluding the current fragile geopolitical situation. Another sector that is certainly worth expanding is science, research and innovation. Both our countries have few raw mineral resources. However, our chief resource is the ‘grey matter’ in our brains. And here I see certain developments in Greece from which Switzerland could learn: for example, in the digitisation of the public sector. A sector that we must always take into account for the future is that of IT, in which there is at the moment a very promising development in Greece”.
Ambassador Estermann also mentioned the energy sector, “in which Greece is repositioning itself with leaps and bounds and which is of great interest, also, to Swiss investors. Energy, the climate and the economy are a key issue for all of Europe. Greece has become aware of its potential as an energy hub in South-East Europe. I am impressed by the developments in Renewable Energy Sources. I also find extremely interesting the Greek government’s initiative to develop individual smaller islands into models of sustainable energy economy and autonomy.”
On tourism, he underlined: “Greece is an extremely popular destination in my country, with approximately half a million visitors a year. From a purely statistical point of view, the entire Swiss population has been to Greece in about 16 years.” Based on current figures, it seems that “in 2022 we will return to pre-pandemic levels and possibly exceed them,” he said, while also expressing the belief that “we can explore even more tourism possibilities with offers outside the main summer season and apart from the beaches and the islands. Greece’s interior also has much to offer the Swiss, who like to explore nature on foot and by bike.”
The new Swiss ambassador also examined the historical relations of the two countries and the contribution of Ioannis Kapodistrias, noting: “It was through his intervention that the Federal Treaty of 1815 arose, which was the precursor of the first modern Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848.” He added that “Geneva became the centre of the philhellenic movement in Europe during the ’20s in the 19th century, many notable figures participated in the struggle for freedom and helped to build the new Greek state. From this very important era for both countries arise the very close ties that are still evident up to this day and continue to be cultivated. We are connected in European history and share the values and ideals of independence for which we fought at that time.”