Switzerland and Belgium have several aspects in common: they are both multilingual countries, have two common national languages, a federal constitution and similarly sized populations and territories. They are also home to a number of international institutions. The two countries maintain thriving diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges. Switzerland has a good image in Belgium and is a popular holiday destination.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Belgium
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Switzerland and Belgium cooperate both at the bilateral and multilateral level in many areas, in particular in the sciences, development cooperation, combating terrorism and migration issues. The two countries frequently support each other’s candidates for posts in international organisations.
Switzerland and Belgium maintain dynamic economic relations. The total trade volume amounted to some CHF 10.8 billion in 2016. The principal categories of traded goods are pharmaceuticals, machinery, appliances, precious metals and stones, aircraft, vehicles and fuels.
Swiss companies established in Belgium are primarily active in the food and other industries, cement and pharmaceuticals sectors, watch-making, logistics, finance and insurance. In addition, Switzerland is a popular destination for Belgian tourists. The port of Antwerp, the second-largest in Europe after Rotterdam, is a major centre for trade and the shipment of goods to Switzerland.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Both countries participate in various multilateral agreements. Swiss and Belgian universities have signed a variety of bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements, and a number of Swiss cantons have direct contacts with Belgian municipalities.
Swiss institutes of higher education, especially the two federal institutes of technology, are highly regarded by Belgian students. Moreover, academics and researchers from the two countries collaborate on a number of projects, particularly under the EU Research Framework Programme.
Each year the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students awards Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships to Belgian students. Researchers and artists from Belgium are required to submit their applications to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation via the Swiss embassy in Brussels.
Swiss nationals in Belgium
According to the Statistics on the Swiss Abroad, 8,219 Swiss nationals were living in Belgium (of which 5,810 had dual citizenship) at the end of 2016.
The two countries maintain close cultural relations, in particular in the areas of music, dance, fine arts, cinema, theatre and festivals. The exhibition on Hans Arp mounted in 2004 by the BOZAR/Centre for Fine Arts, in Brussels, the exhibition dedicated to Paul Klee in 2008, and the exhibition on Le Corbusier, shown in Brussels in 2013, as well as the exhibition on Swiss comics in 2014 at the Belgian Comic Strip Center are some of the main events in recent years. In addition, a series of conferences was dedicated to the status and role of the languages of small minorities, i.e. Romansh in Switzerland and German in Belgium, in 2013 and 2014.
The Swiss embassy supports cultural productions by Swiss nationals and organises a variety of events and projects in Belgium.
History of bilateral relations
Ties between Belgium and Switzerland date back to the first half of the 19th century when they faced a similar political situation: the two countries had liberal systems of government and were surrounded by conservative great powers.
In 1838, the two countries signed a convention governing reciprocal freedom of establishment. In 1840, Belgium opened an embassy in Switzerland. The Belgian representative held the title of ambassador, a title which at that time in Switzerland was only accorded to the representatives of France and the Holy See. In 1862, the two countries signed their first trade and friendship agreement on a most-favoured nation basis. The Swiss embassy in Brussels was opened in 1918.
The First World War strengthened ties between the Swiss and Belgian people. The violation of Belgian neutrality by German troops drew sharp criticism, in particular in French-speaking Switzerland. During this period, Switzerland admitted 2,000 Belgian children to its hospitals and interned 4,500 wounded officers and soldiers and 6,000 refugees. This humanitarian commitment was recalled in Belgium during the centenary commemorations of the First World War in 2014 and 2015.
King Albert I introduced the tradition of regular visits by the Belgian Royal Family to Switzerland. In 1935, the wife of King Leopold III, Queen Astrid, died in an accident in Küssnacht (SZ). Between 1945 and 1950, Leopold III lived with his family in exile in Switzerland. His son, Prince Baudouin, completed his studies in Switzerland. Following his accession to the throne in 1951, Baudouin continued to cultivate good relations with Switzerland, where he was received on a state visit in 1989. Eleven years later, King Albert II made a state visit to Switzerland on 21 and 22 November 2000. His eldest son, Philippe, who was crowned King of the Belgians on 21 July 2013 following the abdication of Albert II, continues this tradition.