Switzerland established regular contacts with Macedonia immediately upon the latter’s independence, integrating the new nation in its transition support programme. Switzerland’s cooperation strategy focuses at present on supporting a reform process in the areas of decentralisation, the economy, water supply and environmental protection. The presence of a sizeable Macedonian diaspora in Switzerland helps strengthen ties between the two countries.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Switzerland recognised Macedonia on 12 May 1993 and in bilateral relations uses the constitutional appellation “Republic of Macedonia”, as do more than 130 other nations. Relations are good, being dominated by questions concerning the substantial Macedonian community in Switzerland (family reunifications, police cooperation) as well as the keystone development cooperation programme.
Economic relations and trade between the two countries remain modest. There is potential for further development both at the commercial level and in terms of direct Swiss investment in Macedonia. So far the attractions and business potential of Macedonia have been recognised mainly by Swiss citizens of Macedonian origin who have studied or worked in Switzerland. A small number of these “Swiss Macedonians” have managed to create small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in their native land, either with their own funds or in partnership with a Swiss company.
Cooperation in the field of education and training
Macedonia is a partner in the “Scientific cooperation between Eastern Europe and Switzerland” (SCOPES) research programme, financed jointly by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). In the 2009-2014 period 24 Swiss projects with a direct Macedonian cooperation component received support. During this period researchers from two projects funded by the SNSF worked with Macedonian colleagues in the areas of mathematics, natural science and engineering.
Scholars and artists from Macedonia are eligible to apply to the State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships. Since its participation in 1964 Macedonia has been awarded 48 scholarships.
Up to the year 2008 Pro Helvetia was actively involved in developing cultural ties between the two countries from an office in Skopje. Subsequently Switzerland has participated in various cultural manifestations, notably in the context of the “Francophonie” and Italian language weeks. In the autumn of 2011 the visit of architect Mario Botta from the Canton of Ticino, giving lectures in Skopje and Tetovo, was one of the highlights of Macedonia’s cultural agenda.
Switzerland has undertaken bilateral cooperation projects in Macedonia since 1992, while contributing to regional and international programmes. The current Swiss cooperation strategy with Macedonia (2013–2016) focuses on supporting reform processes in the areas of decentralisation, the economy, water supply and environmental protection.
Having only recently enjoyed independence, Macedonia now finds itself in a phase of development and building a national identity. As it moves towards integration with Europe this new nation, despite relative stability and steady growth, still faces a number of challenges. The Orhid Framework Agreement of 2001, which marked the end of a violent conflict over Albanian minority rights, is the basis for the government’s political agenda, particularly with regard to minority rights and the process of decentralisation. It is against this background that Switzerland’s cooperation programme is being implemented.
Swiss nationals in Macedonia
At the end of 2015, there were 321 Swiss nationals living in Macedonia.
The history of bilateral relations
In 1994, a year after recognising Macedonia’s independence, Switzerland had the ambassador resident in Sofia accredited and participated in diplomatic missions aimed at increasing the country’s stability. The Confederation seconded six police officers in the framework of United Nations peacekeeping operations, and provided financial support for the census of 1994. The following year the Confederation helped create a local radio channel for the benefit of the minorities in Skopje. Since 1996 Macedonia has been a priority beneficiary of Swiss cooperation with Eastern Europe. In view of the growing importance of Switzerland’s commitment an embassy was opened in Skopje in 2000. Switzerland is much appreciated as a partner in Macedonia thanks to the extent of the resources employed, unique capabilities in certain areas, and the way in which the Swiss development aid programme complements those of the European Union.