Europe: Swiss concerned with potential backlash in Muslim markets

Switzerland’s economy minister said on Wednesday that the Swiss government is concerned with a possible boycott of Swiss products overseas because xenophobic tendencies have found more ground in the wealthy European country.

Answering Today’s Zaman’s question in a written interview before boarding a plane to Ankara for an official visit on Thursday, Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, said: “This is a big concern for my government. The key to solving this issue is dialogue; dialogue with Muslim communities in Switzerland and, on the international level, dialogue with Muslim countries.”

Switzerland received criticism for its approval of a ban against the construction of new minarets in a plebiscite three years ago. Earlier this month, the country’s National Council rejected a motion to ban wearing burqas by the anti-minaret camp, the so-called Egerkinger Committee, who believe that the rejection ignores the majority of Swiss who are openly against the “Islamization” of Switzerland.

Schneider-Ammann emphasized the necessity of better dialogue between various communities living together in Switzerland. “This means explaining the situation and the policies adopted by the government, as well as supporting and promoting mutual understanding. Dialogue also allows for solutions to problems associated with living together. Coexistence among people from different cultural background always and everywhere causes problems,” he said. “I strongly believe that problems are not caused by xenophobic or Islamophobic attitudes of the people,” added Schneider-Ammann. The minister also noted that “foreigners are well-integrated in Switzerland. This is particularly true for the approximately 100,000 Turks living and working here.”

Turkey and Switzerland had a total trade volume of some $6.5 billion, but it is highly unbalanced since Swiss exports to Turkey account for slightly more than $5 billion of that. However, there is also a considerable level of Swiss investments in Turkey. Some 600 Swiss companies employ more than 15,000 people in the fields of machinery, pharmaceuticals, chemicals production and the financial sector in Turkey, Schneider-Ammann noted in the interview, adding that around 300,000 Swiss tourists visit Turkey every year.

The minister said there is a potential for the growth in commercial relations between the two countries. And he added that “Turkey, with its economic dynamism, has become a priority country for Swiss foreign economic policy.” The Turkish economy has grown by more than five percent on average each year for the past decade.