The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is marking its 140th anniversary in Berne this week on 9 October, also known as World Post Day.
The UPU, an intergovernmental organization that sets the rules and standards that enable its 192 member countries to exchange international mail and parcels, was created on 9 October 1874. It is also the United Nations specialized agency for postal services.
The International Bureau – the secretariat of the Universal Postal Union – has been firmly anchored in Berne for 140 years. Located at Weltpoststrasse 4, the building holds a staff of some 250 people, representing more than 50 nationalities. It also houses a Postal Technology Centre, where software and systems are developed to help member countries better manage their mail volumes, quality of service and electronic money transfers, among others.
The International Bureau provides logistical and technical support to the UPU’s official bodies – the Council of Administration and the Postal Operations Council – and serves as an office of liaison, information and consultation. It also promotes technical cooperation among Union members.
Twice a year, in spring and in fall, more than 1,000 delegates come to Berne over a three-week period to attend the annual sessions of the UPU’s Council of Administration and Postal Operations Council. Other forums, conferences and workshops are held regularly throughout the year.
This activity is important for Berne tourism and the city’s economy. The UPU estimates that visiting UPU delegates account for at least 15,000 overnight stays a year.
For his part, Berne Mayor Alexander Tschäppätt salutes the UPU’s anniversary: “Berne is not only the city of bears, Albert Einstein and Toblerone. Berne is cosmopolitan and welcomes residents from more than 160 countries. We are particularly proud that, for the past 140 years, the UPU has been part of our world heritage site protected by UNESCO. To the UPU, one of the oldest international organizations in the world and a United Nations specialized agency, I send my most sincere congratulations on its anniversary.”
“We are very grateful to Berne for the warm reception it has given the Universal Postal Union, its staff and thousands of delegates over the years,” says UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein. “By being a part of the nation’s capital, our organization, whose work touches the lives of millions of people daily, has surely contributed to making Berne better known worldwide and raising its prestigious image.”
To mark the UPU’s 140th anniversary, the Swiss Post is issuing a new postcard featuring a stunning view of the Old City surrounded by mountains and adorning the UPU’s 140th anniversary visual. The postcard carries a special printed stamp, valued at 1.90 CHF. Designed by Berne artist Daniel Dreier, the postcard can be purchased from 9 October onwards at six post offices throughout Switzerland, including the Berne post office located at Schanzenpost. The postcard will also be on sale at the UPU’s International Bureau (Weltpoststrasse 4).
Members of the Berne community and from the rest of Switzerland will have an opportunity to learn more about the Universal Postal Union when the UN agency takes part in the next edition of Berne’s Museum Night, on 20 March 2015. Management and staff look forward to welcoming visitors so they can discover what lies behind the walls of the organization with its own tram stop, Weltpostverein, including beautiful artwork donated by countries, and several philatelic curiosities. The UPU has a collection of more than 180,000 stamps from all countries of the world.
The UPU’s history can be traced as far back as 1863, when then United States Postmaster General Montgomery Blair called a conference in Paris, France, to lay down a number of general principles for mutual agreements, but delegates failed to agree on an international postal agreement.
Ten years later, Heinrich von Stephan, a senior postal official from the North German Confederation, drew up a plan for an international postal union, and upon his recommendation the Swiss Government convened an international conference in Berne on 15 September 1874. Representatives from 22 nations attended the conference, and on 9 October – a day now celebrated as World Post Day – the Treaty of Bern establishing the General Postal Union was signed.
This treaty succeeded in unifying a confusing international maze of postal services and regulations into a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of mail. The barriers and frontiers impeding the free flow and growth of international mail had finally been pulled down.
Membership in the Union grew so quickly that its name was changed to the Universal Postal Union in 1878. The organization became a United Nations specialized agency for postal services in 1948.
Ten facts about the Universal Postal Union
· The UPU was created in Berne on 9 October 1874 in what is today the Empire-Saal at the restaurant Zum Äusseren Stand in downtown Berne.
· The UPU is one of the oldest international organizations in the world and the only United Nations specialized agency in the Swiss capital.
· The current director general is Bishar A. Hussein from Kenya; the deputy director general is Pascal Clivaz from Switzerland.
· The organization sets the rules and standards for the exchange of international mail among global Posts, and helps strengthen postal networks worldwide by providing technical assistance and expertise. It also facilitates the introduction of new products and services or the adaptation of existing ones into more modern offerings.
· The UPU has 192 member countries; 22 countries founded the organization in 1874.
· The organization’s annual budget is about 35 million CHF.
· 9 October is known as World Post Day. Every year, Posts worldwide celebrate this Day to remind customers and stakeholders about the value of postal services in the overall communication market.
· The International Bureau in Berne, the UPU’s Secretariat, employs about 250 staff members who represent more than 50 nationalities.
· Every spring and fall, more than 1,000 delegates from around the world come to Berne to attend the annual sessions of the UPU’s official bodies over a three-week period, contributing 15,000 annual overnight stays in the city’s hotels.
· The UPU monument is located in the Kleine Schanze park, near the Swiss Parliament, and features five women each representing a different continent exchanging letters around a globe. It is the work of French sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux and it has inspired the current UPU logo.
About the UPU
Created in 1874, the UPU, based in Berne (Switzerland), is an intergovernmental organization and the primary forum for cooperation between governments, Posts and other stakeholders of the worldwide postal sector. In addition to maintaining a genuinely universal network that provides modern products and services, it establishes the rules for international mail exchanges among its 192 members and makes recommendations to stimulate mail volume growth and to improve the quality of service for customers. In 2012, some 5.1 million employees processed and delivered 350 billion letter-post items, including 3.7 billion international items, and over 6 billion parcels. Many postal services also offer expedited mail, financial and electronic services. Some 640,000 postal establishments make the postal network the largest physical distribution network in the world. The UPU is a specialized agency of the United Nations since 1948. This year, the UPU celebrates its 140th anniversary on 9 October.
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