Switzerland and Belgium have several aspects in common: they are both multilingual countries, have two common national languages, a federal constitution and similarly sized populations and territories. They are also home to a number of international institutions. The two countries maintain thriving diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges. Switzerland has a good image in Belgium and is a popular holiday destination.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Belgium
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Switzerland and Belgium cooperate closely both bilaterally and multilaterally in many areas, in particular in the sciences, development cooperation, combating terrorism and migration issues. The two countries often support each other's candidacies in international organisations.
Switzerland and Belgium maintain robust economic relations, with trade amounting to CHF 7.9 billion in 2019. The main goods traded are pharmaceuticals, precious metals, precious stones, fuels, aircraft and other vehicles.
The Belgian economy has a similar structure to the Swiss economy, with a high proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a well-developed service sector and a lack of natural resources.
Swiss companies established in Belgium are primarily active in the food and other industries, cement and pharmaceuticals sectors, watch-making, logistics, finance and insurance. In addition, Switzerland is a popular destination for Belgian tourists. The port of Antwerp, the second-largest in Europe after Rotterdam, is a major centre for trade and the shipment of goods to Switzerland.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Both countries participate in various multilateral agreements. Swiss and Belgian universities have signed a variety of bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements, and a number of Swiss cantons have direct contacts with Belgian municipalities.
Swiss institutes of higher education, especially the two federal institutes of technology, are highly regarded by Belgian students. Moreover, academics and researchers from the two countries collaborate on a number of projects, particularly under the EU Research Framework Programme.
Each year the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students awards Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships to Belgian students. Researchers and artists from Belgium are required to submit their applications to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation via the Swiss embassy in Brussels.
Swiss nationals in Belgium
According to statistics on the Swiss abroad there were 8,136 Swiss citizens living in Belgium at the end of 2020, of whom 5809 had dual nationality.
The two countries maintain close cultural relations, in particular in the areas of music, dance, fine arts, cinema, theatre and festivals. The exhibition on Hans Arp mounted in 2004 by the BOZAR/Centre for Fine Arts, in Brussels, the exhibition dedicated to Paul Klee in 2008, and the exhibition on Le Corbusier, shown in Brussels in 2013, as well as the exhibition on Swiss comics in 2014 at the Belgian Comic Strip Center are some of the main events in recent years. In addition, a series of conferences was dedicated to the status and role of the languages of small minorities, i.e. Romansh in Switzerland and German in Belgium, in 2013 and 2014.
The Swiss embassy supports cultural productions by Swiss nationals and organises a variety of events and projects in Belgium.
History of bilateral relations
Belgium opened an embassy in Switzerland in 1840, while Switzerland opened its embassy in Brussels in 1918. These were later followed by consulates general in Geneva and Antwerp, as well as Belgian consulates in various Swiss cities.
The First World War strengthened ties between the Belgian and Swiss populations. When Belgian neutrality was disregarded by the German troops, this triggered fierce criticism, especially in French-speaking Switzerland. Switzerland took in 2,000 hospitalised Belgian children and interned 4,500 wounded officers and soldiers, as well as 6,000 refugees, including the industrialist Ernest Solvay and the poet Emile Verhaeren.
The Belgian royal family has always maintained good relations with Switzerland. King Albert I was a regular visitor to the country, while Leopold III lived with his family in Switzerland from 1945 to 1950. When King Leopold III abdicated in 1959, his son King Baudouin I continued to maintain good relations with Switzerland, and was received on a state visit here in 1989. Eleven years later King Albert II paid a state visit to Switzerland on 21 and 22 November 2000. His eldest son, Philippe, who was enthroned as King of the Belgians on 21 July 2013, continues the royal family tradition and regularly spends holidays in Switzerland.