International cooperation strategy 2021–24: greater focus and impact
Swiss development cooperation will become more focused, making it more effective. This is reflected in Switzerland's new international cooperation strategy for 2021–24, as adopted by the Federal Council on 19 February 2020. It calls upon Parliament to approve CHF 11.25 billion for the strategy’s implementation.
Press conference 19.02.2020
- Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis
- Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, State Secretary, Director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs
- Thomas Gass, Assistant Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
Four thematic priorities
Based on the Federal Constitution and legislation, every four years the Federal Council and Parliament define the strategic approach of Switzerland's international cooperation. Alleviating need and poverty in the world and sustainable development are at the heart of the international cooperation mandate. The following thematic priorities have been set for 2021–24:
creating decent local jobs
addressing climate change
reducing the causes of forced and irregular migration
promoting the rule of law
The Federal Council seeks to increase the impact of international cooperation through these four priorities, a focus on specific regions, innovation, and the use of digital technologies. This new approach will also give Switzerland greater flexibility in responding to crises and opportunities.
North Africa and the Middle East
Asia (Central, South and South-East Asia)
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) will now focus on four priority regions for bilateral development cooperation.
FDFA’s bilateral development cooperation will progressively withdraw from Latin America by end 2024. In addition, the total number of priority countries of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) will be reduced from 46 to 35. These resources will be transferred to the four priority regions, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa where the needs will be the greatest.
The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) will continue its economic development work in a limited number of countries within the four regions and its engagement in certain emerging countries in Latin America.
Humanitarian aid, the promotion of peace and human rights, as well as action to tackle global challenges (climate and the environment, water, migration, food security and health) will maintain their global mandate.
Close cooperation with multilateral organisations like the UN enables Switzerland to put its expertise and experience to good use and to increase the effectiveness of its engagement.
Switzerland's international cooperation needs to address the needs of affected populations in developing countries (especially concerning extreme poverty), Switzerland's long-term interests (a peaceful and just international order, business environment, migration, global sustainable development), and deliver added value at international level (expertise, skills and innovation).
In keeping with the maxim 'foreign policy is domestic policy', international cooperation for 2021–24 was submitted for an optional public consultation for the first time. The consultation attracted considerable interest, with 249 responses submitted by 24 cantons, 8 political parties, 7 umbrella organisations, 183 other organisations, and 27 individuals. The new international cooperation strategy was generally well received. At the same time, a broad range of changes were also requested, some of which contradict each other. Given the high response rate, this was to be expected. The high participation is a reflection of a strong interest in international cooperation and contributed to better anchoring foreign policy domestically.
Under the current financial plan, a total of CHF 11.25 billion has been earmarked for the 2021–24 period (compared to CHF 11.11 billion for 2017–20). As a consequence of a correction to inflation, this amount is less than the CHF 11.37 billion that were expected at the time of the public consultation. Switzerland can undertake commitments up to this amount during the relevant period. The relevant funding will be determined by Parliament during the annual budget debates. Based on the latest projections, with the proposed payments, Switzerland's official development assistance (ODA) would amount to 0.46% of gross national income. As a consequence of the latest GDP prognosis, the expected rate of ODA is slightly above the rate expected at the time of the public consultation (0.45%). This is below the 0.5% target which was approved by Parliament in 2011 and has since been reaffirmed on several occasions.
Parliament will debate the 2021–24 international cooperation strategy in the summer and autumn sessions of this year.
'International cooperation' encompasses actions undertaken in relation to humanitarian aid, development cooperation, peacebuilding and human security. To enable Switzerland to plan its activities and budget for the long term, the Federal Council applies to Parliament for framework credits, covering separate four-year periods, by submitting the 'Dispatch on Switzerland's International Cooperation'. Parliament will vote on the framework credits for the 2021–24 period this year.
- Clear deployment criteria: The international cooperation strategy and geographical priority areas are determined by the needs of affected populations in developing countries, Switzerland's long-term interests, and the added value delivered by Swiss international cooperation at international level.
- Thematic priorities: creating decent jobs, addressing climate change, reducing the causes of forced and irregular migration, and working to promote the rule of law.
- Geographical focus: the FDFA has prioritised four regions for bilateral development cooperation, cutting the number of SDC priority countries from 46 to 35 and disengaging, for example, from Latin America. SECO will continue to prioritise 13 countries for its economic cooperation and development activities.
Strategic linking of international cooperation and migration policy
Reinforcing the strategic link between migration policy and international cooperation, for example through the flexible application of funds to pursue migration policy opportunities outside the priority countries.
Fight against climate change
Devoting more resources to mitigating climate change and dealing with the consequences of climate change: international cooperation funds used for this purpose are set to increase from CHF 300 million annually (2017–20) to CHF 400 million by the end of 2024.
Cooperation with the private sector
Cooperation with the private sector in developing countries will be stepped up, for example by developing new funding mechanisms.
Harnessing the potential of digital technologies more effectively, e.g. using smartphone payment models, blockchain technology for financial services, and drones and satellite data for crop insurance purposes.
Switzerland is stepping up its multilateral engagement, supporting the adoption of effective reforms and international standards.
Strengthening developing countries' resilience to crises and disasters
Humanitarian aid, peacebuilding and development cooperation will be more closely integrated with a view to strengthening developing countries' resilience to crises and disasters.
Increasing the number of scientific impact studies will allow international cooperation to be targeted more effectively in the medium and long term.
Geographical and thematic focus
The Federal Council proposed five framework credits totalling CHF 11.25 billion in its Dispatch on Switzerland's Strategy for International Cooperation 2021–24. According to the latest projections, Switzerland's official development assistance (ODA) for the 2021–24 period would account for approximately 0.46% of gross national income (GNI). This is below the 0.5% GNI target which was approved by Parliament in 2011 and has since been reaffirmed on several occasions.
To put this in perspective: the framework credits approved by Parliament under the 2017–20 dispatch amounted to CHF 11.11 billion.
- North Africa and the Middle East
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Central, South and South-East Asia
- Eastern Europe
Four priority regions
In implementing bilateral development cooperation, the FDFA has identified four priority regions with the greatest need, which also represent major areas of interest for Switzerland, and where Swiss international cooperation can provide added value:
The FDFA's development cooperation work will focus on four priority regions. © FDFA
To maintain the critical mass needed for effective engagement, the FDFA will progressively transfer appropriate resources to its four priority regions by 2024. The FDFA therefore intends to phase out its bilateral development cooperation work in Latin America and the Caribbean between now and 2024. The number of SDC priority countries has been reduced from 46 to 35 (see list of priority countries in appendix 4 of the dispatch).
The following priority countries have now been deselected:
In line with its core expertise in trade and economic policy, the EAER's bilateral development cooperation will continue to focus on selected countries in the four regions specified above as well as Latin America (13 priority countries).
Unlike bilateral development cooperation, other international cooperation instruments will not be subject to geographical restrictions. Humanitarian aid, multilateral activities, global programmes (climate and the environment, water, migration, food security and health) and measures to promote peace and human security will also be focused on the four priority regions. Although the universal mandate will be retained, work will also be undertaken outside these regions.
- Contributing to sustainable economic growth, market development and the creation of decent jobs (economic development)
- Addressing climate change and its adverse effects and managing natural resources sustainably (the environment)
- Saving lives, ensuring basic services, especially in relation to education and healthcare, and reducing the causes of forced and irregular migration (human development)
- Promoting peace, the rule of law and gender equality (peacebuilding and governance)
Swiss international cooperation assists in the alleviation of need and poverty in the world and promotes respect for human rights and democracy, the peaceful co-existence of peoples as well as the conservation of natural resources (Art. 54 of the Federal Constitution). Meeting these objectives is also in Switzerland's interests, given that its open, globalised economy relies on a stable international, rules-based system. Global challenges such as sustainable economic growth, migration, climate change and health call for coordinated action across national borders.
Key objectives for the 2021–24 period are as follows:
In the short term, international cooperation helps to tackle the causes of flight and forced displacement, improve living conditions for displaced people, and protect refugees in their initial host countries.
In the medium term, international cooperation aims to improve prospects for people locally, providing alternatives to irregular migration and delivering optimal solutions for integrating migrants and displaced persons in developing countries.
In the long term, international cooperation addresses the root causes of irregular and forced migration, including poverty, lack of access to basic services, armed conflict, poor governance, environmental destruction, and the impacts of climate change.
At political level by systematically engaging in policy consultations to address migration issues. The Federal Council intends, for example, to enter into further migration agreements and partnerships.
At geographical level by ensuring that federal government cooperation programmes systematically address migration. Greater financial flexibility for bilateral development cooperation should also allow Switzerland to exploit opportunities more effectively in relation to migration policy.
At thematic level by specifically addressing forced and irregular migration in international cooperation programmes, such as projects focusing on prevention, protection and integration and improving economic, political and social prospects in migrants' home countries.
International cooperation helps to address and manage the causes of forced and irregular migration in the following three ways:
Strategic linking of international cooperation and migration policy
More specifically, steps will be taken to reinforce the strategic link between international cooperation and migration policy at three different levels:
- The proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from 41% to 10% between 1981 and 2015.
- The proportion of people living in democracies increased from 33% to 55% between 1970 and 2015.
- The proportion of undernourished people fell from 28% to 11% during the same period.
- The percentage of children dying before the age of five fell from 36% at the start of the 20th century to 4% by 2015.
- The proportion of adults who can read and write rose from 21% to 85% over the same period.
- Nine out of ten people now have basic access to electricity, while seven out of ten have access to drinking water.
8 million people have better access to drinking water and effective farming irrigation systems.
Due to Switzerland's involvement, 9 million people, more than half of them women, have completed basic or vocational education.
Improved access to capital has enabled 827,000 businesses to create new jobs.
Switzerland has assisted 8.4 million people in serious crisis situations and helped 1.2 million to rebuild following natural disasters and armed conflicts.
Switzerland has supported 17 official peace processes, including Syria and Mozambique, and facilitated ceasefire negotiations in six countries, including Myanmar and Colombia.
Humanity as a whole has never had it so good. People are enjoying better, longer, healthier and safer lives than ever before. And international cooperation has helped to achieve this. A number of scientific studies have shown that official development assistance has a positive impact on living standards, prosperity, productivity, governance, the education system and healthcare in developing countries. Some notable successes:
Switzerland has contributed to these successes. Some examples taken from the mid-term and final reports on the Dispatch on Switzerland's International Cooperation 2017–20:
According to the final report, SDC and SECO projects generally show a very high 84% to 88% success rate compared to other countries.
In a globalised economy, economic problems in one part of the world can quickly affect other parts. Moreover, climate change and the depletion of natural resources are problems that transcend national boundaries, requiring concerted action by the international community.
Despite the progress made in recent decades, the world still faces considerable challenges. Ten per cent of the world's population still lives in extreme poverty, with more than half of the extreme poor living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although income differentials between countries have narrowed in recent years, socio-economic inequality within countries continues to be a major problem. High levels of inequality, including inequality between men and women, can also hold back economic growth in the long term. Discrimination, social exclusion and a lack of prospects for young people, in particular, also threaten stability and fuel violence.
Complex armed conflicts, which have become more protracted than ever before, are again on the rise, with civilians now accounting for up to 80% of the victims. Other challenges include poor governance, human rights violations, inadequate public services, over-indebtedness, unchecked urbanisation, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. All these factors have an adverse impact on development.
Many jobs in Switzerland are tied, directly or indirectly, to the global economy. Switzerland has an open, globalised economy which relies on a stable international, rules-based system, Official development assistance therefore also benefits the Swiss economy as it stimulates demand (e.g. purchases of goods and services in Switzerland).
Markets for Swiss businesses
In addition, international cooperation raises income levels and improves economic conditions in developing countries, helping to create new markets for Swiss companies and in turn boosting economic growth, which creates Swiss jobs.
Addressing global challenges
Many of the environmental, migration, security and health challenges the world is currently facing also affect Switzerland in terms of climate change, asylum seekers, the threat of terrorism and pandemics. These challenges cannot be tackled by just one country alone, but require a global response. This also ensures a sustainable way of life for future generations in Switzerland.
Switzerland's international cooperation, multilateral engagement and good offices create goodwill and open doors that might otherwise remain closed. Shaping global rules also enables Switzerland to defend its independence and interests effectively. As a neutral country that is not a part of any alliance, Switzerland relies on its international partners.
Alternatives to irregular migration
By supporting poor and crisis-ridden countries Switzerland is creating better economic, political and social prospects in regions from which migrants originate, thus providing alternatives to irregular migration in the medium to long term.
International cooperation raises Switzerland's profile abroad and enhances the appeal of Geneva as a venue for international organisations. International Geneva contributes an estimated 1% to Swiss GDP.
For the first time, the FDFA and EAER conducted an optional consultation on international cooperation to facilitate extensive discussion of the new international cooperation strategy and obtain the broadest possible domestic political support. The consultation was held between 2 May and 23 August 2019 and attracted considerable interest, with 249 responses submitted by 24 cantons, 8 political parties, 7 umbrella organisations, 183 other organisations, and 27 individuals. The stakeholders consulted approved the draft but some demanded certain clarifications and changes. The high response rate means that the changes requested are extremely wide-ranging and to some extent irreconcilable. The high response rate demonstrates that there is a great deal of interest in international cooperation in Switzerland. The consultation also helped to better integrate the issue of international cooperation in the domestic political debate.