President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, my task has been greatly facilitated, because my colleague, Mr President Merz, told you everything that we talked about over the last four or so hours, the time that I have been on the territory of the Swiss Confederation.
First of all, I would like naturally to thank Mr President and my Swiss colleagues for their warm and cordial welcome, for their true hospitality, which we felt from the moment we arrived in Switzerland.
And we really did have a productive exchange of views on various issues. Mr President has mentioned almost all of what we talked about, but he outlined four areas, and as a guest I must identify a minimum of five, otherwise it would seem that we did not have enough to talk about.
I'll start with history. Of course, the history of our countries is very different – they have different geopolitical situations and sets of traditions. On the other hand, we have a lot of interesting episodes in our common history. Of course, one of the key pages is associated with Generalissimo Suvorov’s crossing the Alps.
We are very grateful to our Swiss friends for commemorating this event which is essential not only for our country but also for the history of Switzerland and, in our opinion, was an important mission by a Russian military commander that was crowned with success.
And of course we are very pleased that the anniversary of these events will occur during our stay: we will fly tomorrow and see how it looks today and perhaps imagine how it was 210 years ago. We have enough imagination to conjure up Generalissimo Suvorov and the soldiers who bravely crossed the Alps to achieve a very important political and military result.
But this is not the only shared page in our history. Mr President talked about the large numbers of our compatriots who traveled between the Russian Empire and the Swiss Confederation both at that time and, incidentally, continue to do so today. I can say that if it used to be primarily traders who traveled between our two countries, now business representatives do so with pleasure and are finding more and more points of contact.
Of course for me certain cultural references are very important, because as someone who was born and raised in St Petersburg it is very noteworthy that some of the magnificent palaces which were built there are associated with the name of Domenico Trezzini, and this is also part of our common cultural heritage. I talked about this during an interview with the Swiss media and would like to emphasise it again.
Now let’s talk about where we stand today. In fact we consider Switzerland to be one of our most stable and important trading partners. The economic crisis has not had a great impact in this regard, although of course there has been a drop in trade. Let's hope that all these ties will be restored soon. We feel quite confident about the prospects here, not only because of the general economic recovery in the world, but also because the amount of investment that exists between our two countries is quite significant and measured in billions of dollars. Swiss direct investment in Russia in 2008 amounted to about four billion dollars. Russia's companies in turn invested considerable sums in Switzerland. I don’t have to single out the companies involved – everybody knows who they are. Let me just say that major Swiss companies such as Nestle, Schindler Group and others operate successfully in Russia. Russian companies in the Swiss market are also well known: Renova, Rusal and other businesses are very actively involved in the Swiss economy.
For this reason after the news conference we will be meeting with what Mr President called the creme de la creme of Russian-Swiss business. I am sure that this exchange will be interesting.
The third dimension of our relations involves foreign policy. For us Switzerland has always been and will always be an important foreign partner. We appreciate the mediation efforts being made by the Swiss Confederation which has been given credence to assist in settlement of the consequences of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, and we are grateful to our Swiss partners for acting as mediators currently representing our interests in Georgia.
I also think that the upcoming Swiss presidency in the Council of Europe will truly serve to strengthen democracy and civil society, and will contribute to achieving the goals that the institutions of the Council of Europe have set themselves.
Another subject to which I would like to draw your attention is the efforts made to overcome the consequences of the crisis: we talked about these, including those efforts being made by the Group of Twenty. We exchanged our views on who should make decisions affecting global economy, how representative the Group of Twenty actually currently is, what role Switzerland might play in such discussions. We concluded that Switzerland, because it is such an important financial centre, should participate actively in the discussion of various issues on the agenda related to the settlement of the crisis and the creation of a new financial architecture. On this score there are different opinions, but my own view is that this is crucial, not only for Switzerland but for the future of international finance.
There is one subject which definitely affects all of us, the future configuration of security systems in Europe. I once again drew attention to Russia’s initiative in this regard, I mean the possibility of a treaty on European security. If we confine ourselves to Russia and Switzerland, we are much closer because we are not involved in the significant number of alliances that exist on the European continent, and therefore we are very concerned about how these issues of security will be addressed. In my opinion the current system still has flaws. This was readily apparent in the 1990s and unfortunately there was another conflict that occurred last year. So I think that work on this treaty will continue. Our Swiss colleagues have said that an exchange of views on this subject and a discussion of this document are of interest to them.
This issue involves global energy security, and I believe that this topic is also in essence a reflection of our common approaches to the issue of how we are to live in Europe, to provide not only political and military security but also economic security.
I once again drew attention to Russia’s initiative aimed at establishing a new energy security regime, and I think that discussion of these issues should be continued. It is in the interests of all Europeans, and certainly in Russia’s interests.
That makes for four subjects. Of course the future is very important for us, and we believe that the future bodes extremely well for our relations, that there is great potential for their development. We have agreed to further improve our treaties and agreements. And following the signing today of the four agreements which Mr President just mentioned, in the near future we intend to intensify work on other documents. In the month of October there will be a meeting of the intergovernmental commission, which will be considering six new documents. These involve important agreements in the field of scientific and technical cooperation, intellectual property and in several other areas. If we can move forward on these documents, then of course we will create a very strong regulatory groundwork for future progress.
These, then, are the results, and everything that the President of the Swiss Confederation and I haven’t talked about you can now proceed to ask us. Thank you.
Question: America recently turned to Switzerland with a request to provide information on a number of personal bank accounts, which US authorities believe to contain funds acquired through illegal means. Russia is currently becoming more active in its fight against corruption. Is it possible that Russia may also approach the Swiss authorities with a similar request?
Dmitry Medvedev: I was always taught to respect banking secrecy. I was interested in this issue while at university studying law, as well as later in life. Talking to Mr President today, I mentioned that about twenty years ago, I even wrote some research works devoted to banking laws. Usually, when people talk about banking secrecy, they do not question the fundamentals which is probably correct as those fundamentals are important, because despite the problems we have today, we must maintain the general understanding of banking secrecy, which humankind developed over the span of centuries and which has been conducive to the development of entrepreneurial activity.
The main issue today is concerned with individual elements of this matter and the extent to which the citizens of various countries respect our banking legislation. This always involves public interests and tax-related claims to some individuals clashing with principles of privacy, i.e., the possibilities that citizens have to engage in various kinds of transactions, to invest their assets, or to put them in banks.
Usually, when principles of private and public interests are in conflict, national legislation would allow provisions of privacy laws to prevail. But there are many cases when public interests are granted preference. And so, the efforts by the international community and within the G20 deal with improving our general understanding of the limits and extents for guaranteeing banking secrecy, and at the same time, for determining taxpayers’ liabilities. Thus, anytime one government turns to another government – whether it is the United States or the Russian Federation turning to Switzerland regarding similar issues – the various matters involved in these problems should be addressed individually, and should be based on the law.
However, it is entirely clear that we must try to agree on key positions, including through the framework of processes that are taking place within the OECD. I feel that we have seen some good progress in this field. The Swiss Confederation has put in some very energetic effort, and the G20 nations are also working in all these areas. Thus, I think that the concerns that were raised will be alleviated. As for the likelihood that Russia will turn to Switzerland for help on these matters involving certain taxpayers and responcibility of certain individuals who hold Swiss bank accounts, clearly, this is a possibility, since we in Russia really are trying to bring about some order in this respect. We have special agreements with the Swiss Confederation, and among other things, we are currently progressing on modifying a number of such agreements. But that is not what’s most important, since these relate to some rather exceptional aspects in relationships between our nations. Governments – including that of the Russian Federation – have the right to know whether people are paying taxes; this is absolutely normal.
On the other hand, I want to emphasise again that this should not affect citizens’ major personal rights and freedoms which in my opinion include banking secrecy.
Question: What specific measures of support do you expect from Switzerland in regard to designing new security architecture in Europe?
Dmitry Medvedev: We believe that creating new security architecture in Europe is of interest to all nations, but it may be of particular relevance to nations that are not engaged in any alliances or blocs – ones that do not participate in resolving various issues addressed through influential organisations such as NATO and the European Union. We therefore assume that this is a matter of importance to the Swiss Confederation, since Switzerland is a neutral state. Neutrality is a key element in the status of the Swiss Confederation, and so, Switzerland is not indifferent to what will happen within Europe in the upcoming years.
Today, during our talks, I mentioned my view that the level of security in Europe has not improved; indeed, I feel that it has decreased in the last 10 or 15 years. This is unfortunate. We are not currently divided into any kind of ideological blocs and we do not have any widely varying values, but at the same time, the level of security is dropping rapidly. Thus, in shaping the foundations for new security architecture, we very much hope that the Swiss Confederation will provide its services as a mediator. Switzerland, as a nation, has always been very successful and confidence inspiring in this area. In my view, Switzerland itself is interested in creating such a system, due to its neutral status.
Question: You are about to depart for the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. What is the main message that you will be taking to the forum?
And a second question regarding Switzerland: during your talks, did you discuss the problem of protecting Russian investments? Did any Russian companies have any kind of problems?
Dmitry Medvedev: As far as my message is concerned, this is a fairly complicated matter. The main message is simple: we need to come to agreements really soon. The sooner we reach agreements and make accords binding for all G20 states and, preferrably, for all other states as well, since we are interested in creating a new configuration for global financial relations, the better. Thus, we need to move fast. A lot of time has already passed since our first meeting in Washington DC. We have made progress in some areas. I find the decisions made in London have been quite successful. We were sufficiently specific on a variety of issues, including the fate of international financial organisations.
But today, I would like to point out that we have yet to address a large number of issues. Meanwhile, every state is waiting for those issues to be resolved: this includes G20 member-states as well as states that are not participating in the forum. We therefore need to agree on quotas; we need to agree on the status of organisations and their competence and interaction; we also need to agree on an international auditing and accountability system.
There is already dialogue concerning all of these issues, but it is not progressing as rapidly as we would like. And so, my main message is that we should advance fast. We are currently seeing a positive trend. I hope that the crisis will soon be behind us. But it is possible that future complications are not far ahead, so we must do a good job of preparing for them now.
As for the second part of your question on protecting Russian investments, I think that overall, Switzerland has fairly secure regulations for protecting investments; indeed, these regulations have been tried and tested over centuries. But naturally, there are some particular matters and specifics for discussion. We spoke with Mr President about many issues. As far as I understand, in cases of companies that are currently facing some proceedings, the proceedings will be accomplished in accordance with applicable laws. These are regular administrative procedures of verifying observance of relavant laws by some companies, which do not impede unrestricted operation of such companies in the Swiss market in terms of enjoying the most favoured investments regime and in terms of their continued expantion into the Swiss market. They may continue striving to accomplish the goals they have set for themselves. These are probably the issues you were referring to.
Question: You said that banking secrecy is a basic human right. Is banking secrecy prevailing over the freedom of press?
Dmitry Medvedev: It depends on who you ask. I think that banking secrecy would be more important for someone who has a lot of money. But on a more serious note, it is clear that these rights lie in different planes. If we are talking about freedom in the media, then these are so-called immaterial freedoms. Banking secrecy is a material element of a personal legal status. I therefore think that the two can not collide. It is preferable for these two concepts to be harmonised within every national legislation, so that a free person may have access to free media, but also have assurance of banking secrecy and, given the nature of private property, enjoy the right to dispose as one wishes of such property, provided it is not ni breach of the law. Thus, I think that we should not contrapose one concept against the other. It is good to have both of these elements contributing to individual rights.
Question: How important is it for Russia to have ties with the people residing here? Many of us have Russian passports, and we are Russian citizens.
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not think my answer will surprise you.
It is extremely important for all of us and for our nation to have ties with our citizens who are living in Switzerland, Germany, France, and Europe overall, for two reasons. First, it is important because it is our constitutional duty to help our citizens and protect them in every way possible; we are not indifferent to their fate. Second, in talking generally about emigrants from the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, there is another important dimention to it. In spite of the fact that these people live in Europe, their roots are tied to their former motherland. In fact, we essentially consider the things that you say about Russia here and the things that you do here, to be an element of our national policy, no matter what one may feel about such a statement. So we very much count on you to help the Russian Federation, regardless of whether you are currently or formerly a citizen of the Russian Federation or the Soviet Union. I wish you success in all that you do.