Ignazio Cassis has a good mood for the interview. Only his little tired eyes show that the judge has to deal with long days. However, at their office in the Bundeshaus West high above Aare they can certainly manage: Although the dimmers ruin the unique view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the autumn afternoon. But designer lights hide the desk and meeting table from the Foreign Minister in much indirect but light and warm light. Mineral water, chocolate, apples and dried figs are on the table for refreshment. Cassis is also modest as an official: He offers coffee and orders him to order himself.
The cold November days have been well controlled. What do you do to keep yourself in a good mood?
Ignazio Cassis: When I arrived at the Children's Hospital as a subassistent from Ticino to Bern, I found November in Midlands unbearable. In Ticino, the sun shines or it's raining. That it was foggy week after week, I did not know, it was depressing me right. But then the climate among the underassistents and subassistents was so good that the dimming became really romantic.
The fog became romantic?
Well, maybe it was more my companions on dark walks (laughter). But this year we are lucky, it seems quite often the sun here.
Does the mood affect the Bundesrat?
The atmosphere in the Bundesrat depends less on the weather than on the issues we are dealing with. There are heated meetings and also quite boring. Depending on what is expected.
Let's come to the forthcoming vote on the self-determination initiative (SBI). The initiative's advocates invest significantly more than the opponents in their advertising campaign announced on Thursday. Does the alarm bell ring?
They have been doing it for a long time. The referendum reminds me of those who are part of the mass immigration initiative. Even then, the opponents were clear in the majority, there was reason for optimism, and then the nasty surprise came on the voting day. There is also much at stake now and it's difficult to measure how it will turn out.
The self-determination initiative is contentally dry material. Nevertheless, the public debate is very emotional. Is it surprising to you?
Not at all. This is an issue that has occupied us for 700 years, the essence of the Swiss identity, namely the tension between Germany and abroad. Depending on the country, Switzerland is now part of the German, French or Italian language. Therefore, delimitation to foreign countries is even more important for your own identity. That is why the debate is so emotional, although the content is actually relatively dry.
SBI opponents warn against the termination of the Convention on Human Rights, great legal uncertainty and serious consequences for the economy. What's really going on on November 25th?
The consequences are basically extremely difficult to predict. What is most disturbing me are these impossible transitional provisions.
These say that the self-determination initiative also applies to all existing provisions of federal constitution and obligations under international law. Again, the constitution should be superseded by international law.
This opens the box of Pandora. This leads to incredible uncertainty because we do not know which contracts are still valid.
Can you give an example?
An excellent example is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). He has never expressed unity with the people. Although the voting population later adopted several additional protocols to the European Convention. You can legitimately argue that the main document has also been approved. But you can argue for it, and it will be claimed.
How many lawyers would the federal government need to employ to SBI to control all contracts?
We have not planned any jobs and would not systematically review all contracts. I assume that if the initiative is adopted, different groups will make their claims and we will then look into the controversial contract. What and how many contracts will be, we do not know today. Therefore, I can not say if the consequences are dramatic when they assume SBI or if almost nothing happens.
The initiators want to refer to the adopted vote on the mass immigration initiative. This was done only half-heartedly with reference to the free movement of persons. This should be prevented in future with SBI.
At that time there was a conflict between the objectives of two provisions, and Parliament needed to find a way to reconcile both. No referendum was taken against the solution found.
The target conflict was between the constitutional restriction of immigration, including quotas, and free movement of persons. According to SBI, the hierarchy should be clear, the federal constitution prevails.
Yes, even though the Freedom Agreement was a voluntary referendum.
Parliament and the people have no statement at the signing of the UN migration package. Again, this shows that the people are ignored.
You actually see that the migration package has nothing to do with SBI at all. The Pact is not an international convention, and is therefore not affected by the vote. If one day the content of the migration pact was governed by a state agreement, it would be the subject of the democratic approval process.
Would not it be better to involve Parliament earlier?
That's a big misunderstanding. The Federal Council acted exactly under parliamentary law, something else was not possible. Now that different initiatives have been taken, the Federal Council will soon deal with this and then determine the strike direction. Parliament can not prevent approval of the Pact. But if it clearly opposes it, it is a clear signal for the federal council that it must be respected.
Are you convinced that Switzerland can still join the migration pact?
I am convinced that this will happen one day. Whether on December 10 in Marrakech, as originally planned, will show.
Generally: How would foreign countries react to yes to SBI?
I do not expect a wave of annoyance. But Switzerland would probably be perceived less as a bridge builder, as a guarantor of international rights.
Your work as a foreign minister would be harder?
There would be a lot of clarification. And I would be in a difficult situation, that in Switzerland we still do not know what impact the new constitutional provision will have in practice and that I should answer abroad.
Will it finally go ahead with European policy after the vote on the self-determination initiative?
Yes. I have no plans to stay in this impossible situation for a year when we do not know what's happening. This is difficult for Switzerland, but also difficult for the EU. This creates uncertainty for the economy and investment is reduced because it is not unclear whether market access to the EU is still guaranteed. We are in the final question and must now go through.
What would be a yes to the SBI for negotiations on an institutional framework agreement with the EU?
From a legal point of view, but the political signal would certainly not be helpful. If you annoy your counterparty, it is ready for minor compromises.
If the initiative was adopted, would the EU still be prepared to conclude a framework agreement?
The atmosphere does not get any better. But the deal is not about sympathy but about solid interests. And with a trade balance of one billion francs a day, the EU has a keen interest in keeping market access to Switzerland. Just as we are interested in accessing the EU.
Are you sure that the agreement will end?
(Laughing). I'd almost say that's what I pay for. But honestly, we are in the final question. I think we can do it, it will not be easy, but it is so important that we must be able to do it.
At home you still have to convince the unions.
As I said, we must be able to do that.
Let's get to Brexit: The EU and Britain have reached an agreement. What does this mean for Switzerland?
The quieter the climate between the EU and the UK, the more scope we have. The people in Brussels are less annoyed and there are less tensions in general. This gives us more time to negotiate bilateral agreements with Britain.
Negotiations begin now?
Officially not yet, but of course they are talking to each other. The Federal Council approved its corresponding "Mind the gap" strategy in October 2016 and has been in regular contact with Britain since. A joint process with London could be started. We are also prepared if there is an odd Brexit. Even in this case, existing rights and obligations should be maintained Switzerland – Great Britain as far as possible. For example, if the aviation agreement was terminated, we have a solution that keeps the aircraft continuing to fly to the UK.
Back to SBI: According to the latest vote, a majority now wants to reject the initiative. Can you sit back?
We are well on our way, but I still have a lot of respect. After accepting the mass immigration initiative, we accused the university's environment of not engaging enough. When I was a parliamentary, I asked the professors: Where were you last week? I do not want to listen to this criticism, so I make an effort to the last minute.
Then do you travel a lot next week?