The excellent relations enjoyed by both countries stems from Switzerland's humanitarian aid and reconstruction activities both 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 by the president of the Swiss Confederation at the time, Micheline Calmy-Rey, on 14 November 2011 and the official visit of the former Croatian president, Ivo Josipović, to Bern on 19 June 2014, during which he was received by the then president of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter.
Since 2006, there have been regular exchanges between the two parliaments. The 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 (FMP). In this regard, on 28 August 2013 the Federal Council approved Protocol III to the FMP, extending the free movement of persons to Croatia. With the adoption of the popular initiative "Stop mass immigration" on 9 February 2014, however, Switzerland is no longer in a position to sign Protocol III in its current form. In order to restart negotiations and discussions on the participation and market access dossiers, the Federal Council announced on 30 April 2014 that Croatian citizens would be treated in the same way as those of other EU member states. As of 1 July 2014, the Federal Council guarantees Croatian nationals the same quotas they would have received if Protocol III had been signed. Switzerland signed Protocol III on 4 March 2016. It will enter into force and be legally binding when a solution has been found with the EU that is compatible with the AFMP.
The Federal Council also decided to extend its enlargement contribution to include Croatia and allocated a sum of CHF 45 million. The amount was approved by Parliament at the end of 2014. With this contribution, the Federal Council wishes to treat Croatia in the same way as the other "new" member states that have joined 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 member state of Croatia.
Swiss exports to Croatia increased up until 2013, but have declined since 2014, while imports from Croatia have shown growth 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 with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). After Croatia's accession to the EU, most agreements were superseded by Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the EU.
Cooperation in the domain of education
Scholars 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 be financially supported within the framework of multilateral partnerships with other countries.
Switzerland’s contribution to EU enlargement
As an EU member state, Croatia is one of the beneficiary countries of the Swiss contribution to reducing the economic and social disparities in an enlarged EU. The Swiss contribution to Croatia amounts to 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 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 2015 there were 1,366 Swiss nationals living in Croatia. More than 219,000 Swiss tourists also visit the country every year.
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.