Switzerland’s cross-border cooperation

Cross-border cooperation is an important aspect of the relations with neighbouring states. While foreign policy is primarily a matter for the federal government, it is the cantons that are responsible for cross-border cooperation with neighbouring regions.

Cooperation between border cantons and their neighbours abroad is regarded both as part of the regional and integration policy of the federal government and of bilateral relations with neighbouring states. Cantons may conclude agreements under international law with the regional authorities or neighbouring states in order to resolve common problems and to implement projects on a cross-border basis. These powers to enter into agreements are subordinate to those of the federal government, and are restricted to those areas for which the cantons are responsible.

Development of cross-border cooperation

From the 1960s to the 1980s cross-border cooperation initially developed on the basis of classical inter-state agreements dealing with problems of relations between neighbours. Matters requiring attention included access to schools and hospitals, road building, fisheries and hunting.

Beginning in 1980, local and regional cooperation began to take new forms, and new agencies began to appear. These were designed to promote the mutual exchange of information and closer coordination between the responsible authorities on both sides of the border.

The border cantons were anxious to involve the federal government in efforts to strengthen cross-border cooperation – particularly after the rejection by Swiss voters of Switzerland’s accession to the European Economic Community in the referendum of 6 December 1992.

The role of the FDFA

The FDFA provides political assistance with the process of cross-border cooperation. This takes place in the context of bilateral contacts with neighbouring countries in particular, and by means of the continued development of legal mechanisms at bilateral and multilateral level. Meetings between senior representatives of the FDFA and the foreign ministries of neighbouring states help to further strengthen the cross-border exchange of information and to facilitate the resolution of problems between neighbours, in particular on the occasion of government commissions or regular meetings on cross-border issues (known as cross-border dialogue).