Bilateral ties between Switzerland and Tunisia have strengthened since the Ben Ali regime fell in 2011. The two countries now enjoy excellent relations, with trade growing steadily since 2011. Tunisia has become a partner in Switzerland's cooperation strategy for North Africa.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
The good relations between the two countries are reflected in a series of bilateral agreements covering a range of areas. Switzerland and Tunisia are also bound by a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which was signed on 17 December 2004 and took effect in 2005, and a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement.
Other agreements have been signed supporting the transition to democracy in Tunisia. In 2012, Switzerland and Tunisia established a migration partnership, signed a cooperation agreement on migration and an agreement facilitating exchanges for young professionals.
Various cultural projects and Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships have bolstered exchanges between Tunisia and Switzerland and bilateral relations.
With a total trade volume in 2018 of CHF 413 million, Tunisia is Switzerland’s twelfth largest trading partner in Africa.
A number of Swiss companies operate in Tunisia, predominantly in the textile, clothing and food sectors. A Swiss-Tunisian Chamber of Commerce was established after the revolution in 2011.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Tunisia can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) has appointed the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO) to act as Leading House for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for the 2017–20 period. The Leading House MENA is tasked primarily with promoting scientific cooperation between Switzerland and MENA countries.
Peace promotion and human security
Switzerland's cooperation strategy for North Africa for the 2017–20 period has three components:
Democratic processes and human rights
Economic development and employment
Migration and protection
In terms of the strategy's first pillar, Switzerland promotes human rights by providing technical assistance, with the objective of incorporating human rights into counter-terrorism legislation. It also supports Tunisia’s National Authority for the Prevention of Torture at institutional level and works to ensure that border officials uphold human rights. Switzerland also contributes to the work of dealing with the past and building transitional justice mechanisms, such as preserving records and involving civil society in debates on transitional justice. Lastly, Switzerland supports projects aimed at preventing violent extremism by increasing young people's participation in politics at local level.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
Switzerland stepped up its activities in Tunisia following the events of January 2011. As part of its cooperation strategy for North Africa, Switzerland set up a programme to support the transition process in conjunction with Tunisian partners. The International Cooperation unit at the Swiss embassy in Tunis was established to oversee the implementation of the programme. Switzerland's activities focus on promoting development and fighting poverty in disadvantaged areas of Tunisia. Switzerland has made young people a priority for its activities in the country.
Approximately CHF 110 million was spent on international cooperation with Tunisia for the 2017–20 period.
Extensive cultural exchanges have taken place between Switzerland and Tunisia. The countries' common language, French, is an important aspect in these exchanges. Switzerland regularly hosts exhibitions and events in Tunisia and supports local cultural projects. Switzerland also takes part in the Journées de la Francophonie every year.
The Cairo branch of Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia is responsible for promoting Swiss arts and culture in the Middle East and North Africa. Pro Helvetia Cairo promotes cultural links in Tunisia, initiates joint projects between artists and arranges artists' residencies.
Swiss nationals in Tunisia
At the end of 2018, there were 1,496 Swiss citizens living in Tunisia.
History of bilateral relations
Relations with Tunisia developed in the 19th century in the wake of France's expansion into North Africa. In 1939, Switzerland opened a consulate in Tunis. Tunisia achieved independence in 1956, which marked the start of bilateral relations between Switzerland and Tunisia. Switzerland recognised Tunisia as an independent state soon afterwards and opened a legation, which was upgraded to an embassy in 1961.