Ambassador of Switzerland H.E. Dr. Tiziano Balmelli
By Rabih Kalas
Special to The Times Kuwait
In a recent exclusive interview, Ambassador of Switzerland H.E. Dr. Tiziano Balmelli, spoke at length about bilateral relations between Switzerland and Kuwait. He stressed on the importance of strengthening existing ties between the two friendly countries, and exploring new areas of common interest in order to serve mutual interests, and achieve prosperity of the two countries.
Ambassador Balmelli, who holds a PhD in Law from the University of Fribourg has worked in the academic field from 1996 to 2001 before entering the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 2002. Well-versed in international law, he has served in different capacities at several Swiss diplomatic missions abroad before arriving in Kuwait. As a constitutional lawyer, he is keen on promoting the rights of people under international laws and charters, and is an ardent supporter of freedom of opinion and expression.
The Swiss envoy began by telling us of his delight to be in Kuwait and his priorities since presenting his credentials. “In general, my very first assignment is to get to know the country, its people and their potential. I immediately started after my arrival. It is a never ending process and I will be learning until my last day here, of course, but this is my priority for the first three months at least. I need to listen to many relevant actors in Kuwaiti politics, business, and society in general.
“I am also learning from fellow diplomats and other foreigners who have been active in this country and the region for a while. I do this with the positive approach which characterizes my personal nature: I constantly try to detect or generate opportunities in potential fields of cooperation. Before the end of the year, we will be able to delineate priorities, objectives and strategies with my team and our partners. My feeling at this stage is that we will focus on increasing the economic exchanges, valorizing our reciprocal humanitarian tradition and expanding people-to-people relations.”
Appreciating the open nature of the country and voicing his optimism on enhancing bilateral relations, the envoy noted: “An ambassador should be first a scout and then a bridge-builder. The scout must act as a pioneer and identify not only new ways to fix old issues, but also new opportunities to expand relations. The bridge- builder then has to inspire and connect the relevant actors on both sides to join forces for win-win initiatives. Ambassadors have a big comparative advantage in these endeavors, doors are always open for them. This is particularly true in Kuwait. Since my arrival at the beginning of June, I have very much appreciated the great openness and sense of hospitality of the Kuwaiti people. And I am very optimistic about working here.”
Praising Kuwait’s role in supporting humanitarian issues, and highlighting the shared conviction in this regard between Switzerland and Kuwait, and on the importance of peace and dialogue in resolving conflicts, Ambassador Balmelli said, “This is a central aspect of our bilateral relations. Our two countries share an internationally recognized tradition of promoting dialogue and peaceful settlement of disputes, even in the harshest crisis, while other actors may slam doors, cut ties or even actively fan the flames of conflicts.
“We can both be proud of this humanitarian role. Unfortunately, the region and the world are witnessing plenty of these situations where countries like Kuwait and Switzerland should join forces to promote dialogue and peace, in particular to prevent or reduce the suffering of civilian populations. I think, for instance, of the promotion of international humanitarian law, where the International Committee of the Red Cross is a key partner for both of us.”
Describing bilateral economic relations as a field that could always be further improved, the Swiss envoy stated: “Generally speaking, I believe that the economic relations between two countries are always improvable, no matter how good they already are. With regard to the Swiss-Kuwaiti relations, our goal is to support the continuous expansion of the volume of investments. This goal is beneficial to the prosperity and the happiness of the populations in our countries.”
“In Switzerland, we believe that the main role of public institutions is to provide framework conditions conducive to the development of the private sector’s business. In the view of the Swiss government, these conditions are well in place between Switzerland and Kuwait through a free trade agreement (GCC-EFTA), an investment protection agreement and a double taxation agreement.
“We should now listen to the business communities to learn what could be done to further develop and expand the potential. We should not forget that Kuwait is performing in a highly competitive region, the GCC. I am confident that the economic and structural reforms under consideration in Kuwait will significantly boost its relations with Switzerland, among others. This will definitely be one of my priorities.”
Underlining his country’s special appeal for global investors, including Kuwaitis, the ambassador noted: “In the World index of Economic freedom, Switzerland traditionally ranks in the top positions. We are strongly integrated into the global economy and we are committed to free trade. We have stability, personal and legal security, easy and well-functioning institutions at all levels. I know that the Kuwaiti private sector is already well aware of the many comparative advantages of Switzerland.”
“The Kuwaiti investments in my country are considerable and well appreciated and this has been the case for a long time. I was honored to learn that the Kuwaiti people were the first from the Gulf region to discover and love Switzerland. Our people-to-people relations and friendship date back to the early 1930s, well before the formal establishment of diplomatic relations in 1966 and the arrival of the first Swiss Ambassador to Kuwait in 1977.”
Asked about the potential for high-level reciprocal visits in the near future, Ambassador Balmelli explained, “For the whole year in 2022, our Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis is simultaneously holding the office of the President of the country. This is by virtue of our unique institutional system, with the presidency assumed each year by one of the seven ministers, on a rotating basis.”
“Traditionally, during their presidency, Swiss Foreign Ministers have to devote their attention to domestic affairs, while international contacts are considerably limited. Nevertheless, even without a ministerial meeting, the two Ministries are holding annual political consultations and the next round of political consultations will be in Switzerland in the coming months. In any case, we are working on this, and new opportunities may always arise due to our very good bilateral relations.”
Turning to the people-to-people relations, the Ambassador recalled that Switzerland hosts several world-class universities and research institutes, attracting students and researchers from all over the world. He encourages Kuwaiti citizens to take advantage of these offers. He also mentioned Switzerland’s strong attractiveness for tourists: “We are looking forward to welcoming many more Kuwait citizens to enjoy our beautiful lakes, mountains, forests, cities and villages. Not only for the purpose of shopping, business trips and holidays, but also for exciting summer-and winter-camps for the Kuwaiti youth. In particular, I invite you to discover and enjoy the wonderful canton of Ticino in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, where I come from.”
Responding to a question on what he, as a member of the younger generation, hoped to achieve during his tenure in Kuwait, the envoy quipped: “Being young is also a matter of spirit, not just age. In my case, I am not sure that being 50 years old qualifies me as a young diplomat… But for sure I always promote new ideas and concrete actions with the right optimism and energy. In this sense, I will definitely bring a new perspective and a fresh approach to strengthen the ties at all levels between our two countries.”
Asked to pick a country that he considers close to his heart from among the various countries he has served, the ambassador said, “I sincerely believe that in every single country of the world one can find inspiring human beings and stunning landscapes. This has always been my experience so far and, indeed, I have had the chance to live and travel in dozens of countries. In the summer of 2017, I moved to Ankara with my wife and we lived there until May 2022.
“Türkiye will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a beautiful country with an impressive historical heritage and an ancient melting pot of civilizations.
Also, I rediscovered there a profound sense of humanity and human relations which is inexorably disappearing in large portions of the Western world. But above all, it is the place where our wonderful son was born in 2018, and that is surely the most important reason behind that.”
On a further personal note, while commenting on food and whether he enjoys the Kuwaiti fare, the envoy replied, “Absolutely! The food in Kuwait is delicious and reflects the diversity of the people who have lived or passed through Kuwait over the centuries. I fully enjoy with my eyes, nose and palate the traditional food and the culinary fusion with the different blends. Currently, one of my favorite dishes is the ‘machboos laham’.
And, at the conclusion of the interview, when asked if he looked forward to visiting diwaniyas in Kuwait, the ambassador exclaimed, “What a question! Indeed. This is one of the main reasons why I came to Kuwait… 🙂