Cross-border cooperation along the Swiss border

Satellite image of Europe at night, the number of lights reflecting different population densities.
Switzerland's position in the middle of Europe means that cooperation with neighbouring countries is extensive and important. © Jean Beaufort

Cross-border cooperation plays an especially significant role in relations with neighbouring countries. While foreign policy is primarily a matter for the federal government, it is the cantons that bear the main responsibility for cross-border cooperation with neighbouring regions.

Cooperation between border cantons 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 with the authorities of 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 however, and are restricted to those areas for which the cantons are responsible.

Increasing importance of cross-border cooperation

Cross-border cooperation initially developed on the basis of traditional inter-state agreements dealing with problems between neighbouring countries – access to schools and hospitals, road building, fisheries and hunting, for example.

Beginning in 1980, local and regional cooperation began to take new forms, designed to promote the mutual exchange of information and closer coordination between the responsible authorities on both sides of the border. 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 FDFA's role in cross-border cooperation

The FDFA provides strategic support in the process of cross-border cooperation, particularly within the framework of bilateral contacts with neighbouring states, and by developing 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 through intergovernmental commissions or regular meetings on cross-border issues (known as cross-border dialogue).