France and Switzerland

Political relations and latest visits

At political level, the pace of bilateral meetings has increased in recent years:
At the level of Heads of State: François Hollande met his counterparts Evelyne Widmer-Schlumpf on 7 December 2012 and Didier Burkhalter on 30 October 2014, and made a State visit to Switzerland on 15-16 April 2015. He visited Switzerland on 23 January 2015, on the occasion of the Davos Forum, and then on 15-16 April 2015 in connection with a State visit, during which he was received by the then President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga. This was the third visit only by a French President since 1910, after those of President Jacques Chirac in 1998 and President François Mitterrand in 1983. The President also met with the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Johann Schneider-Ammann, on 23 January 2016 in Colmar, and then on the occasion of the inauguration of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland on 1 June 2016.

At Foreign Minister level: Discussions between Laurent Fabius and Didier Burkhalter on 6 September 2012, 9 February 2014 and 21 January 2015 enabled significant progress on tax and banking issues and on the tax situation of EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg. The French Foreign Minister Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault and Mr Didier Burkhalter met in Paris on 3 June 2016.

At Finance Minister level: The Finance Ministers Pierre Moscovici and later Michel Sapin have met their Swiss counterpart on several occasions since 2014 to step up tax cooperation between the two countries in the context of the introduction of new international standards and the planned elimination of bank secrecy.

Trade and economic relations

In 2015, Switzerland was still France’s ninth-largest customer and ninth-largest supplier. It now accounts for 3.1% of total French exports and 2.8% of total French imports. Trade between the two countries has increased sharply (+9.5% year-on-year) to a value of €28 billion. However, our trade balance is in deficit (-€337 million), after falling significantly in 2013 and 2014 despite the sharp increase in our exports (+6.8% year-on-year) amounting to €13.8 billion in 2015. This deficit stemmed from the sustained growth of our imports from Switzerland (12.3%) which turned out to exceed our export growth. In 2015, our export growth to Switzerland concerned all our main exports:

Industrial products have increased 8.6% and account for more than half (54%) of our exports to Switzerland. Jewellery, which is our main export to Switzerland with 17% of total exports, increased by 18%. Pharmaceutical products (in 2nd position with 6% of total exports) grew by 10%. The watch and clock sector has been especially dynamic with a 26% increase and now accounts for 3% of total exports. It should be pointed out, however, that our exports have fallen in the perfume and toiletries sector (-2.2%) and in that of organic basic chemicals (-2.4%).

Products from the food industry have increased 9% and account for 14.4% of our exports to Switzerland. This category is dominated by the growth of exports of wine (+3%), vegetables (+6%) and milk and cheese products (+0.4%).

Transport equipment increased 5% and makes up 8.1% of our exports to Switzerland. While automotive exports have grown steadily (+26% to make up 4% of total exports), aviation exports have continued to decline (-18.3% or 2.3% of our exports).

The sharp increase in our imports from Switzerland in 2015 covers more mixed trends between main imports:

imports of industrial products underwent sustained growth of 16% and make up half of our imports from Switzerland (50.2%). This increase was led by pharmaceutical products, which rose 15%, but above all by jewellery which almost doubled in one year and now accounts for 7.3% of our imports from Switzerland. Imports of medical instruments and apparatus (9.3% of our imports) were small.

Mechanical equipment increased 10% to 34% of imports. Within this group, watches and clocks are our main import from Switzerland and have increased 25.9%.
Imports of products from the food industry (7.8% of total imports) increased 4.7%. They are largely dominated by processed tea and coffee (7.2% of total imports).

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Cultural, scientific and technical relations between France and Switzerland are decentralized to a great extent due to the cultural powers held by Swiss cantons and communes and to the part played by Swiss private initiative in that sector. The visibility of those relations is highlighted by the network of nine Alliance Française Teaching Centres in Switzerland. This cooperation is based on direct agreements between the various public and private bodies in the two countries, and on extensive cross-border relations. As a result, relations with French-speaking Switzerland are stronger, even if trade with German-speaking Switzerland is growing.

The Swiss Confederation is very active in the academic and scientific fields to which it devotes 2.7% of its GDP. Swiss research is one of the best in the world.

Such cooperation takes various forms:

France is Switzerland’s third-largest partner in the field of scientific co-publications (after the United States and Germany).

Switzerland is the seventh leading destination for missions by researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), excluding the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Since 2001, the CNRS has maintained an Associate European Laboratory (LEA) in microtechnology which groups a dozen French and Swiss research institutions.

Virtually all French research agencies maintain relations with Swiss institutions: the leading of those agencies is the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) of which Switzerland is the sixth-largest global partner with around 315 partnerships; other agencies include INRA, IFREMER, INRIA and the Pasteur Institute.

Switzerland became a full-fledged member of Francophonie at the Dakar Summit in 1989, before joining the University Agency for Francophonie (AUF) in 1996. Switzerland chaired the AUF in 2011 and successfully hosted the 13th Francophonie Summit in Montreux in October 2010.

Cross-border cooperation

Cross-border cooperation is a key area in the French-Swiss relationship, concerning 10 Swiss cantons (representing half of the population). On the French side, three regions (Rhône-Alpes and Auvergne, Bourgogne and Franche-Comté, and Alsace Champagne and Ardenne Lorraine) border Switzerland, accounting for 46.7% of the trade volume, with the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Region alone covering 15% of French-Swiss trade. Some 150,000 cross-border commuters travel daily from France to go to work.

Despite the significance of trade in cross-border relations, the diversity of issues and different breakdown of powers between the State and the various local governments in France and Switzerland make such trade complex. The institutional component of cross-border cooperation is based on a comprehensive legal framework, the Karlsruhe Agreement and three neighbourhood agreements under which commissions have been set up in the France-Geneva area, the Upper Rhine region and the Jura Arc.
During a meeting in 2005, the French and Swiss Foreign Ministers agreed in principle that senior officials would meet on a regular basis to monitor cross-border cooperation, with a view to identifying beforehand problems needing to be addressed by the central authorities, possibly at the political level. The 11th French-Swiss political dialogue on cross-border issues was held on 25 January 2016 in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was an opportunity to discuss, in particular, issues relating to road and rail transport, the proposed cross-border conurbation in the Geneva area, the free movement of persons and free provision of services, and health and environmental cooperation.

Significant progress was made in talks on the tax situation of EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg. On 23 January 2016, the French President, François Hollande, and the President of the Swiss Confederation, Johann Schneider-Ammann, signed a Joint Declaration providing companies at the airport with long-term legal stability under an international agreement.

Diplomatic and military cooperation

France and Switzerland share common foreign policy ambitions to a large extent: multilateralism, prevention of armed conflicts and strong action in support of human rights and international humanitarian law have been identified by them as priorities. Our joint work is also increasing, mainly because of Switzerland’s geographical position and its role as a transit or springboard country for many irregular migration flows to western Europe. Intergovernmental cooperation agreements in the area of cross-border air transport security were signed in Bern on 26 November 2004 and 27 October 2005, authorizing the right of cross-border pursuit, among other things. The French-Swiss cross-border judicial, police and customs cooperation agreement of 9 October 2007 entered into force in 2009.

Finally, the two countries have maintained close military cooperation, mainly in the areas of training and exchange of expertise.

Updated: 31/08/2016