Issue 146 - July 19 - Incoming GA President Stresses His Country’s Role, Prepares for “Swiss Presidency”

New York, July 19, 2010 -The United Nations General Assembly recently elected Joseph Deiss of Switzerland as President of its 65th Session. Comments upon his election stressed his nationality, describing his election as "an honor for Switzerland" and recognition of the country's contributions to the UN. The GA president is a politically independent position served by individuals, not by States.

As expected, Deiss was elected on June 11 in a very brief acclamation procedure, due to his being the only candidate put forward by the nominating region, the Group of Western European and Other States (WEOG).

Deiss indicated that the priorities for his presidency would include both substantive (poverty, climate change) and institutional issues (effectiveness of the General Assembly, strengthening global governance).

The GA's 65th Session will begin September 14, 2010.

Election Proceedings

Deiss was declared "elected by acclamation," based on two GA Rules:

  • GA Resolution 183/33 of 1978 (Annex, Paragraph 1), which calls for the geographic rotation of the GA presidency among the five regional groupings of UN Member States. In accordance with the rotation established by the Resolution, the president for the 65th Session was to be elected from WEOG. WEOG endorsed Deiss for the post in December 2009.
  • Resolution 34/401 of 1979 (Paragraph 16), which permits an election without voting, calling for "dispensing with the secret ballot ... when the number of candidates corresponds to the number of seats to be filled ... unless a delegation specifically requests a vote." WEOG's endorsement of Deiss resulted in only one candidate for the presidency.

Comments upon Election

Following the election, outgoing President Ali Abdussalam Treki spoke of Deiss' leading role in Switzerland's accession to the UN, calling it a "strong indication of his support for multilateralism and for this organization."

The comments from Treki, who is from Libya, contrasted with some expectations, given recent tensions between Libya and Switzerland.

Treki assured the President-elect of his "openness and availability at all times and our full cooperation and assistance on behalf of Member States and of my office to lay the groundwork and ensure the smooth and efficient start to the 65th Session."

Deiss expressed gratitude for the outgoing President's "enlightened leadership of our Assembly and the generous spirit with which he has introduced me to my new position."

Finally, he thanked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his "tireless activity on behalf of the ideals of our organization" and assured Ban of his "full cooperation and loyalty."

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and the five regional groups of UN Member States made statements upon Deiss' election.

Priorities for 65th Session

Deiss said that the priority issues for his presidency would include:

  • Substantive issues:
    • Further progress toward realization of the Millennium Development Goals (through consolidating commitments, accelerating action in lagging areas, preventing new economic and financial crises and fostering sustainable growth and use of natural resources);
    • Climate change: Making advancements towards a "green economy," the need for which is underlined by the economic crisis;
    • Food security;
    • Reconstruction and strengthened post-conflict work;
    • Human rights, the ideals of the Red Cross, humanitarian aid, and disarmament (which are "all close to my country's heart");
  • Institutional issues:
    • Enhancing the effectiveness and credibility of GA;
    • Sharing Switzerland's political tradition of consensus;
    • Strengthening global governance, especially economic governance; the GA is place for this debate to be held. Finding lasting solutions will require governance that better reflects the new balance of power in the world. Changes within the UN should include revitalizing the GA and reforming the Security Council.. Changes outside the UN include building up relations with other organizations, such as the WTO, as well as emerging groupings, of which the G20 is the most prominent.

Among other messages:

  • Deiss hoped that the General Assembly would live by the Swiss constitution's statement, "the strength of a people is measured by the welfare of the weak."
  • Deiss noted that "Swiss sobriety" ensured that he would form relationships based on specific issues, a positive approach, and friendship. He promised to be accessible to all delegations.

Individual or State?

The GA president serves in his or her individual capacity, not as a representative of his or her government, according to the GA's rules of procedure (Rule 36/107: The President, in the exercise of his functions, remains under the authority of the General Assembly).

Swiss info explained the distinction in Deiss' case: "although his nomination can be seen as a political success for Switzerland, he will not promote Switzerland's interests. That is the role of the Swiss permanent representative to the UN, Paul Seger."

However, in practice, the president's country may be regarded as relevant and significant.

Comments on Deiss' election highlighted the reputation of Switzerland as much as that of Deiss himself. Switzerland's Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey described Deiss' election as a "great honor for Switzerland" and as an important sign of international recognition of Swiss commitment to promoting security and peace. In addition, "This election reflects Switzerland's commitment to multinationalism and its commitment to UN values," alongside "the quality of his candidacy."

Deiss himself said, "This is much more an honor for Switzerland and recognition of what it's doing than for me personally." He referred to his upcoming term as "the Swiss presidency."

He thanked Member States for "their trust in both my country and me."

At other times, he distanced himself from his government. Addressing a reporter's question on Switzerland's ban on minarets, Deiss said, "I am no longer a member of the Swiss government. I am here not to present Switzerland's agenda."

About Joseph Deiss

Deiss has served on the Swiss Federal Council (government of Switzerland) in several key positions.

Deiss was the Federal Councillor for the Department of Foreign Affairs (Minister of Foreign Affairs) from 1999-2002. In this capacity, Deiss "led the successful campaign on Switzerland's accession to the United Nations," which required persuading voters to approve its entry, and the country joined the UN in late 2002.

From 2003-2006, Deiss headed the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, and he was named President of the Swiss Confederation in 2004, a position he held for one year.

Deiss holds a Ph.D. in economics and was an economics professor before he joined the Swiss government.

He speaks English, French, German, and Italian.