Swiss in Belgium ordered to avoid meeting President Cassis during state visit
Swiss citizens living in Belgium have received a surprising email this week informing them about Swiss president Iganzio Cassis' visit to Brussels, due to take place from November 23 to November 25. However, instead of inviting them to meet the quasi-head of state, the email ordered people to avoid interacting with the president during his stay.
Swiss president to visit Belgium on November 23
“Dear compatriots. At the end of November, we will experience a big event in Belgium! President Ignazio Cassis will come, as Swiss head of state, on a state visit to Belgium with all protocol honours,” the statement read. According to Le Matin, the email was sent by the embassy in Brussels to all Swiss citizens who were registered as living in Belgium.
As Cassis is also the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in the Swiss government, his visit will likely include renewed talks about thawing Switzerland’s relationship with the EU, which can currently be described as frosty at best. The President and his wife are expected to arrive in Brussels on November 23. He will then be received by the Belgian royal family and will lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Congress Column, before returning to Bern on November 25.
Swiss expats in Brussels told to avoid President Cassis
However, those hoping to meet the president may be disappointed, as although people will be able to see the president at Congress Column at 10am on November 24, the email included a strange request. In capitals and bold text, the email said that “it will NOT be possible for you to shake hands with the President of the Confederation, or to interact with him in any form.”
A local resident, who leaked the email to Le Matin, said that the message “makes the Swiss in Belgium laugh a lot. We are invited but it is important not to show that we are there." The newspaper noted that the rather dry message was quite strange, given that Cassis is no stranger to meeting people, most notably at the Federal Council’s annual holiday together in Schaffhausen and Ticino.
Swiss in Belgium say they will defy the request and shake hands with Cassis
In response, it turned out that the strange email had a rather strange reason for being sent: the email was actually a military protocol. In a statement, the FDFA explained that “the ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier, a very solemn moment, follows a strict and timed military protocol, with distances to be respected. The directives for the conduct of this ceremony are given by Belgian protocol."
"Of course, the President of the Confederation will then take a short moment to greet the Swiss citizens present. But due to the busy schedule of the state visit, contact with the population will, unfortunately, be limited to a few brief moments,” spokesperson Michael Steiner confirmed. However, this will not deter one Swiss expat, who told Le Matin that he “will try to shake his hand anyway!”
Thumb: Alexandros Michailidis via Shutterstock.