SWITZERLAND: Between two worlds, Switzerland strikes a balance with the United States and Europe
Ambassador Christian Blickenstorfer

Switzerland's Current Situation in Europe

Imagine that the State of Colorado in the heart of the United States of America is a sovereign State and that Colorado has its own currency, army and foreign minister. Colorado would be a white spot on the map of the United States, an independent country, yet largely dependent on good relations with its overwhelmingly larger neighbor.

This is Switzerland's place in Europe. Maryland-sized Switzerland is not part of the European Union, but closely connected to the rest of Europe:

  • The languages of all our neighbors are official languages of Switzerland: German, French and Italian.
  • Roughly 20 percent of the Swiss population is foreign - most of them from European countries.
  • The Swiss often watch TV programs from neighboring countries. They follow their sports and cultural events. They love to go shopping across the border.
  • Finally, the 25-member European Union is by far our most significant economic partner: Two-thirds of Swiss exports go to countries of the European Union; 82% of Swiss imports come from the EU.

Now, you will understand why Switzerland's relations with the European Union are of great importance. Besides the obvious economic and cultural ties, Switzerland and the EU also enjoy very close relations through a number of bilateral treaties: More than thirty years ago, we signed a comprehensive free trade agreement. A series of treaties between Switzerland and the EU came into force a year ago. By way of example, I would like to point out two of them.

The first treaty deals with land traffic between Switzerland and the EU. Imagine a tunnel for the purpose of passing through the Rocky Mountains or a bridge crossing the Grand Canyon. At the moment, Switzerland is in fact building the longest tunnel in the world: 38 miles long. It is probably the boldest Swiss engineering venture of this century. And to be precise: Switzerland is building two tunnels through the Swiss Alps: the second one crossing the western range of the Alps will be 20 miles long. Switzerland is the most important transit country for freight traffic between northern and southern Europe. Thanks to the Swiss railroad tunnels, European freight, obviously for a fee, will be able to cross through the Alps faster and more safely than ever before.

Second, a few words on the agreement which governs the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the EU. Imagine that the inhabitants of Mexico and of the USA could freely work in each others' country. Imagine that in Arizona, the border controls at the Mexican border would be reduced to allow a better flow of persons and goods. That is precisely what was agreed upon between Switzerland, with 7.5 million inhabitants, and the EU, with about 455 million citizens at the present time. Based on the disproportionate numbers, you can understand why Switzerland is not granting EU citizens complete freedom of movement immediately, but instead in successive stages.

Switzerland’s Relations with the United States

Writing the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers were inspired by how for centuries the Swiss cantons organized themselves against powerful enemies. U.S. States like California and Arizona looked at the Swiss democratic system when they introduced ballot initiatives.

On the other hand, the creators of the modern Swiss federal State modeled the first Swiss Constitution in 1848 after the American one. These historic facts illustrate the long-standing relationship between the United States and Switzerland. Mutual friendship has guided us over two hundred years through good and bad times. Despite the apparent differences between the two countries, common values and a strong democratic culture have led to the formation of today’s close political, economic, scientific and cultural ties.

Let me expand on two important factors that bring our countries together: people and business.

Hundreds of thousands of Swiss businesspeople, scientists, artists and regular tourists flock to the United States every year. Many have been staying in the United States to pursue the American dream: Work hard, become rich and sometimes famous.

1) For instance, a Swiss mechanical engineer and car racer named Louis Chevrolet started a small automobile company in Detroit in the early 20th century. Did you know that the Chevy logo actually represents the cross of the Swiss flag?

2) Two weeks ago, Swiss-born entrepreneur Hansjoerg Wyss announced a $25 million donation to the Ph.D. program at Harvard Business School, marking the largest single donation toward business doctoral education ever. He is the CEO of Synthes, a leading manufacturer of orthopedic medical devices.

3) Swiss architects and engineers have left their traces in the United States. The MIT Museum currently exhibits the work of a group of Swiss engineers who are widely recognized as the most innovative structural designers of the 20th century. From Boston's new Bunker Hill Bridge to New York's George Washington and Verrazano Narrows bridges, some of the most acclaimed bridges in the United States are products of Swiss design.

On the economic front, the United States and Switzerland have never had closer economic relations than they do today. Swiss direct investment in the United States reached $113 billion in 2002, surpassing Canada’s investment in the U.S. Conversely, U.S. direct investment in Switzerland amounts to $86 billion - more than in France, Italy and Austria combined.

As you well know, foreign affiliates in both Switzerland and the United States have become a major economic factor for our economies. These companies employ thousands of people, make profits and conduct cutting-edge research activities. Politicians like to point a finger at U.S. corporations outsourcing jobs to China. Swiss companies have been "outsourcing" jobs to the United States, currently employing more than half a million Americans. Companies such as Novartis, UBS and Nestlé have been investing billions of dollars in the U.S. because they believe that America is the most dynamic market in the world.

Likewise, U.S. companies appreciate Switzerland as a research and business platform for overseas markets. IBM and Procter & Gamble employ thousands of people in their subsidiaries in Switzerland. Google just opened its first European research facility in Zurich. Talented U.S. professionals are increasingly attracted by job opportunities and the quality of life in Switzerland.

However, to complete the picture, I cannot leave out contentious issues between our two countries. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the United States had to take measures to protect itself from future attacks. Switzerland has been supportive, especially in combating the financing of terrorism. Yet, it voiced concern about a few issues.

For example, border protection policies have had a direct effect on Switzerland. Tough security measures discourage people from traveling, whether for business, studies or leisure. Since 9/11, the number of travelers has dropped significantly. It is therefore crucial that countries work together to achieve the goal of keeping borders both open and secure. Erecting barriers between our countries would grant the victory to terrorists who want to change the very nature of our open societies.

It comes as no surprise to you that many European countries including Switzerland have not shared the U.S. rationale of going to war against Iraq. The Swiss public by and large shares the critical views of the Germans, French and Austrians regarding U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

The Future of Switzerland’s Relations with the European Union and the United States

If the Western world were a big family, Switzerland would be Europe’s free-spirited, self-righteous and affluent daughter who stubbornly refuses to live in the same house with the rest of the European part of the family. Switzerland also has a successful and commanding uncle, who is in many ways a role model. Yet his success triggers envy and his imposing attitude can be bothersome. Obviously, this would be Uncle Sam. How will Switzerland deal with family issues in the future?

Switzerland - European Union

Let’s start with the European family. What are Switzerland’s options?

  • Try to do it alone.
  • Try to work together without moving in.
  • Move into the European house. Join the European Union.

The first option is not realistic. To take up my Colorado comparison: For practical reasons, it would be very difficult for Colorado to remain a completely independent state in today’s United States without rules for cross-border trade, movement of persons, etc.

Therefore, the Swiss government favors the second option: Enhance cooperation with Europe. Relations between Switzerland and the European Union are ever increasing. The expansion of the EU to 25 member countries reinforced this trend. We plan to further expand our formal ties with the European Union. So, what is at stake?

Switzerland and the EU currently intend to strengthen cooperation in areas such as taxation, environment and education. However, most controversial is their cooperation on justice, law enforcement, asylum and migration issues.

Criminals increasingly choose to operate across national borders. The individual countries face a similar challenge in combating illegal immigration and coping with asylum migration. Arizonans know this issue very well. A majority of voters supported Proposition 200 baring illegal immigrants from receiving government services. The vote was a clear expression of people’s worries and fears about illegal immigration. The Swiss tend to react in a similar fashion.

The Swiss Government came to the conclusion that we cannot deal with these serious problems alone and have to fight them together with our neighbors-all members of the European Union.

Therefore, the Swiss Government is convinced that increasing transborder cooperation, sharing scarce resources and information with the EU will improve our law enforcement capacities. For example, the Swiss police could track a wanted criminal much faster and more efficiently within all 25 European countries. On the other hand, Swiss immigration officers would refrain from systematically checking persons entering Switzerland from the EU. Many citizens fear that this would push international cooperation too far. Eventually, the Swiss may have to decide on this question by referendum next year.

The third option, joining the European Union, has been Switzerland's most important political question for the last 20 years. My government thinks that Switzerland must eventually join the European Union. In the long run, Swiss interests can be better protected inside rather than outside the EU. The significance of the EU for Switzerland increases the more the EU expands and the more strongly it asserts its interests against third states. The Swiss government and parliament realize that they cannot avoid the decisions and attitudes of the EU. On our own initiative, we are already assimilating and adopting many of the decisions made by the EU. Sometimes even faster than the EU’s member countries!

However, you can imagine that Swiss citizens may be hesitant to endorse such a historic decision. The Swiss are proud of their political rights to vote on issues of collective concern. If our country were to join the European Union, many Swiss fear that Switzerland would lose its uniqueness, its independence and its neutrality. They remain reluctant to accept a distant authority imposing decisions they may disagree with. Moreover, in the last Swiss general elections, the conservative Swiss People’s Party won broad support. Since the party does not favor closer political ties with the European Union, the political shift may also influence our foreign policy in the long run.

Therefore, looking into my crystal ball, I cannot predict when the Swiss would decide to join the European family. However, I am willing to bet that this decision will not be made during my career as Swiss Ambassador.

Switzerland - United States

What are the prospects for the Swiss-American relationship?

By and large, the relations between Switzerland and the United States are friendly, broad in scope and free of major problems. Life with Uncle Sam is going smoothly. Ironic as it might sound, this very pleasant and comfortable situation also entails risks.

First, I believe that despite and because of 9/11 we have to think ahead to increase cooperation in specific areas, from the exchange of flight passenger data to the fight against AIDS. In our experience, the best way to deal with most of today’s global issues is multilaterally - whether through the United Nations or through other international bodies. Switzerland shares very similar goals with the U.S. and depends on its constructive leadership.

Second, it is time to think about new ways to intensify our bilateral relationship. One way could be a free trade agreement which would foster cooperation between Switzerland and the United States across all economic sectors. We are currently in the brainstorming phase, and I am confident that such a project would create an innovative platform for even more dynamic relations in the future.


I am very optimistic that the Western world has good and prosperous times ahead. Switzerland will not have to choose between the European family and Uncle Sam. Believing in democratic principles and in the strength of economic freedom, Switzerland will continue to be a valuable and active member of the entire family. We will keep on deepening our relations with the European Union. And we always look across the Atlantic for inspiration and to explore new paths of cooperation with the United States irrespective the party and person in power.