Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Lebanon have traditionally been excellent and have been scaled up in recent years. Switzerland's focus is on supporting political dialogue, strengthening local authorities in the area of migration and improving the business environment.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Lebanon
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In the Middle East, Switzerland's engagement is focused on finding solutions to armed or political conflicts, economic development and governance. Switzerland is also committed to helping young people in the region by promoting vocational skills development, thereby facilitating access to the labour market.
Switzerland’s focus in Lebanon
The MENA Strategy sets out three priorities for Switzerland's activities in Lebanon:
1. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland has very good access to all relevant government and non-government actors and supports dialogue as a means to resolve crises and conflicts as well as deal with the past and prevent violent extremism.
2. Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland promotes better access to water, sanitation and education for people in need. It enhances the migration management capacity of the local authorities, strengthens the local reception system and supports durable solutions, including resettlement in Switzerland.
Switzerland's humanitarian assistance in Lebanon is provided within the framework of its Middle East Cooperation Programme 2019–22. The overall goals of this programme are to help protect vulnerable people and those affected by armed conflict; save and rebuild lives; reduce fragility; prevent and transform armed conflicts; create prospects for development; promote good governance; and protect and promote human rights, refugee law and international humanitarian law.
3. Sustainable development
As part of its development cooperation work, Switzerland engages actively with Swiss companies to improve the business environment.
Following the signing of an agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Lebanon, Switzerland and Lebanon launched a bilateral economic cooperation programme. The volume of trade totalled CHF 1.4 billion in 2020. Switzerland and Lebanon also concluded an agricultural agreement in 2004.
Other areas of cooperation
Education, research and innovation
Swiss and Lebanese higher education institutions have entered into a variety of partnerships and cooperation agreements covering a range of areas such as engineering, hotel management and hospital care. Switzerland is a particularly popular study destination for Lebanese students.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of Lebanon may apply to the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
Switzerland and Lebanon maintain extensive cultural exchanges, for which their shared French language is an important vehicle. Switzerland takes part in Beirut's annual Francophone Book Fair. It is also involved in the celebrations for the International Day of La Francophonie and Italian Language Week. Exchanges of visual artists and musicians are also promoted. Switzerland also takes part each year in Lebanon's European film festival.
Swiss nationals in Lebanon
At the end of 2020, there were over 1,500 Swiss nationals living in Lebanon.
History of bilateral relations
The State of Greater Lebanon was founded in 1920 under the French mandate. Lebanon gained independence in 1943. Switzerland opened a consulate in Beirut in 1934. It was upgraded in 1949 to a legation and in 1958 to an embassy.
Since 1948 Switzerland has provided assistance to Palestinian refugees and other victims of violence in the region through the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Although the Swiss embassy was temporarily closed several times during the civil war (notably between 1988 and 1995), Switzerland offered its good offices during this period and provided active support for the Lebanese National Dialogue Conference, which was held in Geneva in 1983 and reconvened in Lausanne in 1984.