Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Lebanon have traditionally been excellent and have been scaled up considerably in recent years. Their focus is supporting political dialogue, strengthening the capacity of local authorities in the area of migration and improving economic conditions.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–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, which was converted into a legation in 1950 and into an embassy in 1958.
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 in 1988 and reopened in 1995). Switzerland offered its good offices during this period and provided active support for the Lebanese Conference of National Reconciliation, which was held in Geneva in 1983 and reconvened in Lausanne in 1984.
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. Switzerland's three priority thematic areas for the Near East region (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, oPt and Syria) are armed and political conflicts, economic development and governance. Switzerland is also addressing the needs of young people by promoting the development of vocational training, thus facilitating access to the labour market.
Switzerland’s focus in Lebanon
The MENA Strategy identifies three focus areas for Lebanon:
- Peace, security and human rights;
- Migration and protection of people in need;
- Sustainable development.
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.
The 2019–22 cooperation programme for the Middle East is the basis for Switzerland's international cooperation in Lebanon. Switzerland is working to encourage sustainable water management, high-quality education, and income opportunities for refugees, IDPs, vulnerable migrants and host communities in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. A readmission agreement between Switzerland and Lebanon came into force in 2006.
3. Sustainable development
As part of its development cooperation work, Switzerland engages actively with Swiss companies to improve the economic situation.
Following an agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Lebanon, Switzerland and Lebanon launched a bilateral economic cooperation programme. In 2020, the trade volume amounted to CHF 1.4 billion. Switzerland and Lebanon have 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 wide range of areas such as engineering, hotel management and hospital care. Switzerland is a particularly popular study destination for Lebanese students.
Researchers and artists from Lebanon may apply to the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
The shared French language is a vehicle for lively cultural exchanges between Switzerland and Lebanon. Switzerland takes part in Beirut's annual Francophone Book Fair and Francophonie festival, as well as in the annual week for the Italian language (‘Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo‘). It also promotes exchanges between visual artists and musicians from both countries and takes part in the European Film Festival in Lebanon each year.
Swiss nationals in Lebanon
At the end of 2020, 1,578 Swiss nationals were living in Lebanon.