“Switzerland’s engagement shows its solidarity with the EU and its recognition that an enlarged EU is an important step towards greater prosperity, stability and democracy in Europe”, says Ambassador Elisabeth von Capeller, assistant director general at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and head of the SDC’s Cooperation with Eastern Europe Department. The Swiss enlargement contribution supported projects in Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The federal offices responsible for implementing Switzerland’s contribution, the SDC and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) view the 10 years of close cooperation with these countries in positive terms. “The initial project objectives have been achieved on the whole, and in some projects even surpassed”, explains Ambassador Raymund Furrer, head of SECO’s Economic Cooperation and Development Division.
The Swiss electorate approved the contribution in a popular vote in 2006. The ten partner countries concluded agreements for each of the 210 projects bilaterally with Switzerland, which normally covered around 85% of the costs. The remaining project expenses were funded by the partner countries themselves. Each of the projects that were approved fell under one of Switzerland’s five objectives to help reduce economic and social disparities in the enlarged EU: protect the environment (39% of the funds used), promote economic growth and improve working conditions (27%), improve social security (16%), improve public safety (9%), strengthen civil society and promote partnerships between Swiss and local institutions (7%).
Benefits to broad sections of the population in the partner countries
The projects supported by Switzerland benefited broad sections of the population. Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energies in Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia, for example, has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Switzerland has also invested in developing public transport in Czechia and Poland. It has provided Czech, Hungarian, Latvian and Polish companies with microcredits, venture capital and investment credit guarantees, which has helped to create several thousand new jobs. In Lithuania, better training for healthcare workers and modernised hospital facilities have improved conditions for women giving birth and infants, and has helped reduce the infant mortality rate by around 80%. The number of road fatalities in Poland has fallen by 17% since 2012 thanks in part to better police training and traffic calming measures. A fund to help NGOs advance their concerns was also set up in each of the partner countries (excl. Malta) with a focus on social and environmental issues.
Switzerland has benefited too
The enlargement contribution has also been advantageous for Switzerland, helping to strengthen ties with the EU and the member states concerned in a number of areas. It has also created opportunities for Swiss businesses: around 10% of the amounts granted have benefited Swiss companies, associations and universities taking part in the programme in return for their services in the partner countries. The enlargement contribution further strengthens research cooperation, partnerships and knowledge sharing between Switzerland and the partner countries. In Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, partnership funds now finance around 200 small-scale projects, each managed jointly by a Swiss and a local organisation and amounting to an approximate total of CHF 16 million. In addition Switzerland benefits directly from a number of the enlargement contribution projects, such as those aimed at protecting the external Schengen border or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.