Swiss venue: the spirit of Geneva

Status: 10.01.2022 05:00 a.m.

As a place of negotiation, Geneva has seen historic turning points and dramatic failures. Why are diplomats and statesmen drawn to this city again and again for negotiations in times of crisis?

By Sandra Biegger, ARD Studio Geneva

On the Quai de Mont Blanc, there is one grand hotel after the other. Seagulls sail through the air above the promenade on Lake Geneva, small boats dance on the water, and in the background you can see partly snow-capped mountains. No question about it, Geneva is beautiful and, if you have the necessary money, always worth a trip.

Of course, top politicians from all over the world have no time for walks by the lake, says Matthias Schulz, Professor of International Relations and Transnational History at the University of Geneva. However, especially in difficult negotiations, the importance of beautiful surroundings should not be underestimated.

It’s easier to smile when the ambience is nice, he says, referring to Mont Blanc or Lake Geneva. “These are good prerequisites for enabling conflicting parties to approach each other in a pleasant atmosphere.”

Biden and Putin are not coming to Geneva themselves. But they used the advantage of the venue last year – and at least joked with each other in front of the cameras.

Build: AP

There is no shortage of negotiation venues

Often, but not always, the talks between governments take place in one of the numerous UN buildings in Geneva. However, the delegations also often use hotels or properties such as the Villa La Grange above Lake Geneva. The American and Russian Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin last met there around six months ago.

The huge parks around the UN buildings can be well shielded, emphasizes Schulz, and that is “an important criterion for the confidentiality of the negotiations between parties who are suspicious of each other”.

In addition, because of the UN headquarters in Geneva, many countries have an embassy in the city – including staff, including intelligence.

An important step in ending the Cold War: the meeting of Reagan and Gorbachev in Geneva in November 1985.

Bild: picture alliance/KEYSTONE

The charm of neutrality

Mountains and water, well-shielded parks, a beautiful atmosphere and foreign embassies – of course there are other places in the world as well. But Geneva also has the advantage of being in politically neutral Switzerland, says Schulz. That means that nobody has to travel to the other party to the conflict or one of their allies. That is why one goes to Geneva in particular “when conflicts are already at an advanced stage or seem insoluble”.

The “Spirit of Geneva” – it has already achieved great things. The meeting of US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev there in 1985, for example, marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

However, the talks in the city on Lake Geneva did not always lead to the desired result. For example in 1991, when the then American and Iraqi Foreign Ministers James Baker and Tariq Aziz met there. The meeting was the final attempt to persuade Iraq to peacefully withdraw from previously occupied Kuwait. As is well known, without success.

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