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 both at the bilateral and multilateral level in many areas, in particular in the sciences, development cooperation, combating terrorism and migration issues. The two countries frequently support each other’s candidates for posts in international organisations.
Switzerland and Belgium maintain robust economic relations, with a bilateral trade volume of some CHF 9.3 billion in 2017. The main goods traded between the two countries are precious metals, precious stones, pharmaceuticals, fuels, vehicles and aircraft.
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 7,834 Swiss nationals living in Belgium at the end of 2017, of whom 5,620 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 first opened an embassy in Switzerland in 1840. The Swiss embassy in Brussels was opened in 1918. King Albert I was a regular visitor to Switzerland, in keeping with the tradition of the Belgian royal family. Between 1945 and 1950, King Leopold III and his family lived in exile in Switzerland. After King Baudouin acceded to the throne in 1951, he continued to cultivate good relations with Switzerland and was received on a state visit here in 1989. Eleven years later, King Albert II made a state visit to Switzerland on 21–22 November 2000. Following the abdication of Albert II, this tradition has been upheld by his eldest son Philippe, who was sworn in as King of the Belgians on 21 July 2013.