For the fourth time in the 74-year history of the Council of Europe, the heads of state and government of the organisation’s member states will gather next week for a summit. The Swiss delegation to the summit in Reykjavík will be led by President Alain Berset. Prior to the summit, he will meet with Iceland's Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir on Tuesday, 16 May, to discuss current international issues and, above all, cooperation on climate issues.
The summit in Reykjavík is intended to provide the Council of Europe with fresh impetus at a time of great challenges. In response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the 46 member states want to reaffirm the organisation’s core values - human rights, democracy and the rule of law. That means demanding that war crimes in Ukraine do not go unpunished. In addition, the summit aims to consolidate the Council of Europe’s achievements, in particular the system of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Switzerland has been a member of the Council of Europe for 60 years. At the summit, President Berset will set out Switzerland’s priorities with regard to the Council of Europe. In Switzerland’s view, the organisation needs political support for its work in the area of human rights and a stronger role in developing expertise on topics such as climate change and artificial intelligence. It should also foster closer cooperation with other international organisations, including those in Geneva. In addition, the Council of Europe should maintain its pan-European orientation and increase the visibility of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. A number of declarations are due to be adopted at the end of the summit. State Secretary Livia Leu will represent Switzerland at the thematic discussions on Wednesday, 17 May.
Prior to the summit, Mr Berset will meet with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. In addition to discussing the challenges facing the continent and the Council of Europe’s objectives, the bilateral meeting will also focus on cooperation between Switzerland and Iceland within the framework of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and climate issues.
Mr Berset will visit two projects in HellisheiĂ°i in the southwest of Iceland that demonstrate the ties between Iceland and Switzerland. Both involve extracting CO2 from the air and storing it permanently underground. The first is the Orca plant operated by the Swiss company Climeworks, which captures carbon directly from the air; the other is the DemoUpCARMA demonstration project run by ETH Zurich, in which CO2 from a Swiss wastewater treatment plant is transported to Iceland and stored there permanently; the federal government contributes around 50 per cent of the project costs.
The technology used at the Orca plant and the cross-border transport of CO2 for storage are among the first projects of their kind in the world. In order for Switzerland to achieve its net-zero target by 2050, it must apply such technologies to offset remaining greenhouse gas emissions that are difficult to prevent.