Last updated in October 2017
Germany and Switzerland enjoy close, wide-ranging and good-neighbourly relations, not least thanks to the shared language spoken in large parts of Switzerland. The two countries pursue similar goals in their social, economic and foreign policy. There are numerous contacts at all levels. All German Federal Presidents have paid visits to Switzerland, the most recent being that by then Federal President Joachim Gauck to Bern and Geneva on 1 and 2 April 2014. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel paid an official visit to Bern on 3 September 2015. Consultations and meetings are held regularly at ministerial and state-secretary level (either bilaterally or as part of meetings between representatives of the German-speaking countries). The most recent bilateral meeting between Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (in office since 1 January 2012) and then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier took place in Berlin on 6 April 2016. The most recent meeting of the foreign ministers of the German-speaking countries was on 5 and 6 August 2016 in Liechtenstein.
The large number of German citizens living in Switzerland (approximately 310,000, or around 450,000 including those with dual nationality) – a result of the country’s continuing high demand for skilled workers – has repeatedly been the subject of domestic political debate about the free movement of persons on which Switzerland has an agreement with the European Union.
Germany is Switzerland’s most important trading partner by far. In 2016, bilateral trade was worth nearly 88 billion Swiss francs, representing around 23 percent of Switzerland’s total foreign trade of approximately 383.9 billion Swiss francs. Swiss exports to Germany were worth just under 39.6 billion Swiss francs and Swiss imports from Germany around 48.5 billion Swiss francs. Switzerland remains one of Germany’s top ten trading partners, ranking ninth in 2016. Only the United States and China are more important than Switzerland in Germany’s foreign trade outside the European Union’s single market. As a result of the Swiss franc’s appreciation of more than 10 percent against the euro since early 2015, bilateral trade between Germany and Switzerland suffered a decline that year, but rebounded in 2016, with exports to Germany climbing 8.3 percent and imports from Germany 3.3 percent. The positive trend continued into the first half of 2017, with exports to Germany increasing by 6.9 percent while imports from Germany grew by 8.2 percent. This brought the total volume of trade between the two countries to approximately 47 billion Swiss francs.
Germany and Switzerland are closely interconnected in terms of direct investment. In 2015, Swiss companies invested some 38 billion Swiss francs in Germany, mainly in the south of the country. During the same period, German investment in Switzerland totalled around 25 billion Swiss francs. In Switzerland there are approximately 120,000 people employed by companies that are ultimately controlled by German companies. Swiss companies operating in Germany employ even more people, approximately 235,000 (2014).
Cultural ties are very close and wide-ranging because the German language and German culture pervade large parts of Switzerland. They are based on a centuries-old tradition of interpersonal contacts and exchange. Every year, Germans take part in a host of events in all areas of culture: literature, film, theatre, art and music. Conversely, Switzerland makes wide-ranging contributions to Germany’s cultural sector. A number of well-known museums, orchestras and theatres in Switzerland have German directors. The trilateral film agreement between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which was signed in Berlin on 11 February 2011, forms an important foundation for a further intensification of cultural exchange between the three countries.
In 2015, there were 1175 German professors and 2801 German lecturers working at Swiss universities and universities of applied sciences. In the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 11,092 Germans studying at Swiss universities and 3517 Germans studying at Swiss universities of applied sciences. Conversely, in 2015, there were some 320 Swiss professors working at German universities and around 3000 Swiss nationals studying in Germany. In addition, there are many Swiss artists, scientists and academics working and teaching in Germany. The German media have a large audience in Switzerland, particularly the public and private television stations, which attain relatively high viewing figures. German print media are available throughout the country. In the Swiss media, there is steady, detailed and wide-ranging coverage of developments in German politics, society and culture.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its Contents.