Letter from Switzerland
Dear new EU leadership,
I am convinced that it is in the best interests of people in both Europe and the Global South to have the EU investing resolutely in international cooperation. What, then, should be the priorities?
The future of work and job creation
Just as in the EU, much of the political debate in Switzerland is influenced by ageing at home and a booming demography in Africa and South Asia. In this context, a first development policy priority is to support job creation and livelihood opportunities. This comes at a time when the future of work is more uncertain than ever. A simple internet search on “the future of work” yields more than 3 billion hits. Experts resort to divinatory arts to predict what labour markets will look like in a world characterised by the digital revolution, rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and labour automation.
Techno-optimists trust that history will simply repeat itself: following Schumpeter’s theory of destructive creation, we will witness a rapid proliferation of new jobs in the knowledge economy and green economy. For example, AI tech companies have hired thousands of people in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, to label and register images that are fed into databases for self-driving cars (working conditions leaving much to be desired). Techno-pessimists, on the other hand, believe that the sheer volume and abrupt pace of job destruction – hitting labour-intensive sectors particularly hard – will lead to mass unemployment and jeopardise industrialisation prospects for sub-Saharan Africa.
While the debate goes on, the EU, like Switzerland, is well positioned to invest more in potential growth sectors in Africa and beyond, such as tourism, information technology and the digital economy. At the same time, supporting education and training institutions will be key: the EU can further boost North-South scientific cooperation, investing in research partnerships to promote innovations that can be adopted quickly, even in more fragile and volatile institutional settings.
Migrant workers’ remittances received by developing countries have long surpassed foreign aid. Yet, migration concerns increasingly shape international cooperation and development policy narratives, be it in the EU, Switzerland or North America. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted in December 2018, offers the best framework to collectively address the challenges ahead, which no country can address alone.
Back to the roots: Preserving peace and fundamental principles of humanity
A second priority is to address the protracted armed conflicts that are causing large-scale forced displacement and dramatic development reversals in the Sahel, the Middle East and beyond. Reverting to the origin of the European project, it is in the EU’s DNA to invest in a more peaceful world where the horrors of the two World Wars are never again to be endured.
Seventy years ago, it took less than four months for states to adopt the four Geneva Conventions that form the bedrock of international humanitarian law (IHL). While acknowledging the harsh realities of war, states decided to ensure that no civilian, injured or detained person should be bereft of humane treatment, no matter who they are and what they have done. As the depository state of the Geneva Conventions, Switzerland appreciates the critical importance of the EU’s support for IHL. In an increasingly polarised world, where trust is eroded, these Conventions which have been universally adopted provide a common language around a few essential principles. Preserving the core principles of humanity, as enshrined in IHL and human rights law, is crucial. Not least, it can significantly contribute to avert future conflicts, by reducing the grievances and resentments of victims of egregious violations, such as the deliberate targeting of hospitals and the widespread killing of civilians in densely populated areas.
Fast technological advances hold great promise to spur sustainable development. But they can also pose significant threats when transformed into new means and methods of warfare, even if some innovations, for instance high-precision guided weapons, might arguably help warring parties reduce so-called collateral damages. Using its soft power, the EU has an essential role to play in promoting the proper regulation of emerging risks related to autonomous weapon systems, the use of AI and machine learning for targeting decisions, and cyber- and outer-space warfare. Fundamental principles of IHL provide the necessary guidance to avert the dramatic humanitarian consequences that such new means and methods of warfare can have.
Ensuring a level playing field for all nations and EU leadership in environmental sustainability
Thirdly, and based on its experience in building a common market in which its members can thrive, the EU has much to contribute towards a fairer world economic order, where poorer countries can develop and compete on a level playing field. This involves looking at the trade, financial and fiscal policy environment.
Many developing countries are blessed with abundant natural resources. Too often yet, commodity export has not translated into greater domestic resource mobilisation in resource-rich developing countries, not least because trade mispricing and illicit financial flows erode their tax bases. Curbing illicit financial flows is a top priority to enable developing countries to mobilise the domestic resources required to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which eventually will reduce aid dependency. This has also emerged as a critical policy issue in Switzerland, which is a major commodity-trading and financial hub.
Lastly, climate change, biodiversity losses and environmental degradation will have dramatic consequences across the Global North and South. In the Sahel, farmers and agro-pastoralists already experience the dire impact of climate change on a daily basis.
The EU has pioneered efforts to mitigate climate change and promote more sustainable development trajectories, displaying leadership in renewable energy and sustainable cities, among other things. Youth across Europe have started to mobilise at scale and demand resolute action to counter climate change. As new leaders of the EU at such a critical juncture, you can go down in history as the leaders who succeeded in bringing Europe together as a leading force toward a sustainable future for Europeans and the planet as a whole.
About the author
Professor of Development Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,
GenevaVice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross