Thursday, July 31, 2008

Masdar City is a big deal for Swiss Ambassador to UAE

Original Article

Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, the
Swiss Ambassador, in front of
works by UAE and Swiss artists
at the entrance to the embassy.
Masdar City is the main focus of attention for Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, the Swiss Ambassador, as he works on developing the relationship between the UAE and Switzerland.

Mr Bruelhart, who took up his post last December, describes the Abu Dhabi green project as visionary and says the embassy and Swiss companies are in talks on elements to be developed for the carbon-free city that will eventually house about 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses.

Swiss companies are already working on parts of the project, including green buildings and ozone-friendly cars, as well as the solar island planned for Ras al Khaimah.

A prototype of the floating solar island is being developed at the headquarters of the Swiss Centre of Electronic and Micro Technology (CSEM) in the northern emirate.

“In the future, we’d like to see Swiss businesses collaborating,” Mr Bruelhart said in an interview to mark today’s Swiss National Day.

“We’d like to see a long-term partnership develop. Switzerland has a lot of ‘green tech’ companies as it’s an area to which we give great importance.”

Mr Bruelhart, a former director for human rights at the Swiss foreign ministry, emphasised the similarities he has found between Switzerland and the UAE.

“The political systems of the two countries are very similar. The 26 cantons of Switzerland are run as autonomously as the seven emirates. It makes my job a lot easier. Our foreign policy is also very similar. We are both looking for peaceful solutions in foreign policy.

“It is very interesting to be in the region at this time. I think over the next five years, in the UAE and around the area, there will be big changes, political, economic and otherwise. Politically, things are changing very dramatically.”

He says Switzerland and the UAE are both “knowledge-based societies” that share close concerns and goals. Their priorities – the economy, education and the provision of services – give them common ambitions they can develop together.

“Of course, there are always going to be certain differences of priorities along the way, different values, cultures and different problems each country faces,” Mr Bruelhart added. “But so far, all of our projects have gone to plan and the leadership of the UAE have been nothing but supportive. You simply have to work within the context of the country you are in.”

He has carefully laid plans for developing Swiss-UAE relations during his tenure, targeting key areas in which he hopes to make progress, such as education, culture, sport and business.

Mr Bruelhart appointed new department heads when he took over the embassy and immediately set about working out a strategy for developing Swiss interests in the UAE. At a team-building session in Al Ain in January, he drafted a four-year plan with the new consul-general and the director of the Swiss Business Hub strategy in Dubai. He wants more delegations coming to the UAE from Switzerland and vice versa. “I’d like us to have a friendship community where business people from both sides can exchange experience and promote business exchanges,” he said. “It will be a case of sharing experience between the two countries.”

He hopes to promote bridge-building by establishing annual workshops, conferences and forums in both countries for business and political institutions.

“For the long term, this is my major priority,” Mr Bruelhart said. “This is one thing I’d like to see up and running as soon as possible.”

Forty per cent of the UAE’s imports from Switzerland are luxury goods such as jewellery and watches. Other major imports are pharmaceuticals and machinery. “Each sector over the coming years we hope will get bigger, especially the influence of the Swiss banking sector and business interests in the UAE.”

An exhibit at the entrance of the embassy in Abu Dhabi shows that education and culture are areas in which he has already made headway.

In collaboration with three UAE galleries – Ghaf Gallery in Abu Dhabi and Flying House and Total Arts in Dubai – Mr Bruelhart has started an exchange between UAE and Swiss artists.

The works by artists from both countries displayed for embassy visitors will be changed every six months.

Plans for exchanges between Swiss and Emirati students are also under way, starting with the new academic year in the autumn.

“There will be opportunities to study abroad for either just a short time, such as a year, or to complete their whole degree qualification in the exchange country. It will allow the students to see and experience a different way of life and a different culture whilst enhancing their skills base,” Mr Bruelhart said.

The embassy is holding talks with the Abu Dhabi Cultural Authority to create a Swiss-UAE book-reading bus, a mobile library for schools and universities. “We hope to get the co-operation of local writers to come and give book readings as part of a series of events we’ll plan to do with the bus,” he added.

Sport “is a good tool for the exchange of friendship”, he added.

The UAE football team will train in August at the Swiss mountain resort of Crans Montana for their World Cup second round qualifier in September. “Doing the European tournament, you see that football is a very important game and everybody enjoys it,” Mr Bruelhart said. Switzerland and Austria co-hosted Euro 2008 this summer.

The embassy has launched a campaign to lobby Rashid Ahmad bin Fahad, the Minister for Environment and Water, to promote biodegradable and environmentally friendly bags rather than plastic bags in the emirates. “We have sent a proposal to the minister and hope that soon we will be able to offer an alternative to plastic bags across the UAE,” Mr Bruelhart said.

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