The excellent relations between Switzerland and Croatia stem from Switzerland's humanitarian aid and reconstruction activities during and after the conflict in Croatia. Croatia is Switzerland's second biggest trading partner in south-eastern Europe. It is popular among Swiss nationals as a holiday destination. Furthermore, a substantial Croatian diaspora lives in Switzerland.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
The number of high-level official visits and the agreements that have been signed by the two countries attest to a steady intensification of political relations. The high points to date have been the official visit to Zagreb on 14 November 2011 by the president of the Swiss Confederation at the time, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and the meeting in Bern on 19 June 2014 between the former Croatian president, Ivo Josipović and the then Swiss president, Didier Burkhalter.
Since 2006, there have been regular exchanges between the two parliaments. Then president of the National Council, Christa Markwalder, paid an official visit to Croatia in April 2016.
When Croatia joined the EU on 1 June 2013, the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU were automatically extended to Croatia, with the exception of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP). Switzerland ratified protocol III to the AFMP, extending the free movement of persons to Croatia on 16 December 2016. Since the protocol entered into force on 1 January 2017, Croatian citizens have benefited from the free movement of persons, which means they are entitled to enter Switzerland on the basis of their ID card. Protocol III sets out transitory provisions which apply for an initial two-year period, restricting access to the Swiss labour market.
The Federal Council also decided to extend Switzerland’s contribution to the enlarged EU to include Croatia, and allocated a sum of CHF 45 million. The amount was approved by Parliament at the end of 2014. The Federal Council is extending this contribution in order to treat Croatia in the same way as the other ‘new’ member states that have acceded to the EU since 2004. This contribution is a gesture of Switzerland's solidarity and forms the basis for solid economic and political relations with the new EU member state of Croatia.
Swiss exports to Croatia increased up until 2013, but have declined since 2014, while imports from Croatia have been growing steadily since 2011, making it Switzerland's second biggest trading partner in south-eastern Europe. The volume of trade in 2014 stood at approximately CHF 325 million, representing a rise of 18% on the previous year. Switzerland mainly exports pharmaceutical products and machinery, and mainly imports machinery and wood products. More than 60 Swiss companies operate in Croatia.
The two countries have had ties for a number of years via a free-trade agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Croatia. After Croatia's accession to the EU, most agreements were superseded by Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the EU.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Croatia can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
The ‘Scientific Cooperation Between Eastern Europe and Switzerland’ (SCOPES) programme promotes scientific cooperation between research groups and institutions in Switzerland and Eastern Europe. Croatian projects can receive funding within the framework of multilateral partnerships with other countries.
Switzerland's contribution to the enlarged EU
As a member of the European Union (EU), Croatia is one of the beneficiaries of Switzerland’s contribution to reduce economic and social disparities in the enlarged EU. Switzerland’s contribution to Croatia amounts to approximately CHF 45 million. On 30 June 2015 Switzerland and Croatia signed the bilateral framework agreement which regulates the implementation of Switzerland’s enlargement contribution to Croatia. All projects must be approved by May 2017 and completed by mid-December 2024.
Both the Swiss Embassy in Zagreb and the Pro Helvetia Arts Council actively promote cultural exchanges between Switzerland and Croatia. Such exchanges are increasingly taking place within a private framework.
Swiss nationals in Croatia
At the end of 2016 there were 1,400 Swiss nationals living in Croatia.
History of bilateral relations
Switzerland has had a general consulate in Zagreb since 1920. It first served as the Swiss representation to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and subsequently to the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
During the Second World War, the Croatian fascist Ustashe movement proclaimed the Independent State of Croatia with the support of the Axis Powers. At the time, Switzerland represented the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States in the region and initially refused to recognise the new state. In 1941, the Federal Council decided to establish a consulate in Zagreb accredited to the new government. The Croatian representation in Bern was opened that same year.
On 8 October 1991, the former Yugoslav constituent republic of Croatia declared its independence. Switzerland recognised Croatia as a sovereign state in January 1992. In the same year, Switzerland was one of the first countries to open an embassy in Zagreb. Since 1995, there has been a Croatian embassy in Bern as well as a general consulate in Zurich and a consulate in Lugano.
Switzerland was active in Croatia from 1991 to 2006 with targeted humanitarian aid and post-war reconstruction programmes.