Swiss Foreign Policy, 1993

Jan 3, 2024

In front of the entrance to the Lohn Estate in Kehrsatz, near Bern, one last firm handshake, accompanied by a smile, was shared by the distinguished guest in front of the photographers, before President of the Confederation Adolf Ogi and Federal Councillors Flavio Cotti and Kaspar Villiger disappeared inside the building with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. On 18 October 1993, the talks on European policy – perhaps the most important for Switzerland following the rejection by the electorate of the treaty on the European Economic Area (EEA) the previous year – took place behind closed doors, in private. President Ogi’s handwritten notes provide an overview of the topics of discussion (

Chancellor Kohl’s visit marked a key moment for Switzerland’s foreign policy activities in 1993. The Dodis Research Center has analysed numerous documents relating to this year, which represented a difficult phase of reorientation. Dodis published a selection of said documents via its database, as well as in its latest volume of Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland, which will become available as soon as their legal protection period expires on 1 January 2024. «These documents», explains Sacha Zala, Director of Dodis, «demonstrate that the Federal Council launched an unprecedented offensive of visits in response to the shocking ’no’ to the EEA, which enabled bilateral sectoral negotiations to be launched with the European Union towards the end of the year».

Multi-channel integration strategy

Following its historic defeat on 6 December 1992, the Federal Council pursued an integration strategy spanning several levels: on the one hand, it maintained its long-term objective of adhering to the EU. Therefore, it did not withdraw its previous request on initiating accession negotiations dated 18 May 1992. On the other hand, the Federal Council did not rule out the possibility for Switzerland to join the EEA at a later date. However, the government’s priority remained the opening of bilateral sectoral negotiations with the EC. Federal Councillors Jean-Pascal Delamuraz and Flavio Cotti, who had taken over as head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) upon René Felber’s resignation in the spring, made it clear to the European Commission in Brussels «that the bilateral approach was insufficient and provisional, and that the Federal Council’s policy objective remained EC membership, possibly through the EEA». At the same time, the two Federal Councillors stressed that for Switzerland to become a member of the EC, it was «important for the EC to present a conciliatory image of itself to the Swiss population by being prepared to conclude sectoral bilateral agreements» (

Series of visits with Major, Kohl, and Mitterrand

Already at the beginning of the year, President of the Confederation Ogi tried to explain the Swiss position during his talks with European participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos ( At the beginning of April, British Prime Minister John Major was the first of a record number of European leaders to visit Berne ( At the October meeting, Chancellor Kohl reaffirmed his sympathy for Switzerland, while hinting in advance that for him, as a convinced European, Switzerland’s commitment to the path of accession would be«an imperative of the simplest understanding» ( «Swiss bravado is pointless in the long run», warned Kohl ( Finally, in December 1993, President Ogi was also able to receive French President François Mitterrand in his native region, the Bernese Oberland ( Such a series of high-profile visits had indeed never taken place in Switzerland before. Shortly afterwards, the President of the Confederation travelled to Madrid for a meeting at the highest level with «the EU’s toughest negotiating partner on the issue of adopting the mandates for bilateral negotiations» (, with the intention of making a fresh start.

Global economic and financial relations

Swiss commercial diplomacy tried to counteract the omnipresent focus on Europe and showed itself to be particularly inclined on creating contacts on a global scale. In 1993, bilateral trade with Malaysia and Thailand (, Pakistan (, Iran (, and Morocco ( was a key focus. The GATT Uruguay Round was considered as the most central instrument for strengthening multilateral contacts. The largest world trade agreement in history was successfully concluded in December, following eight years of arduous negotiations ( Tensions notably arose in the context of relations with Malaysia, particularly following the debate launched by environmental activist Bruno Manser on a Swiss ban on imports of tropical wood ( During the licensing procedure for the export of training aircraft to South Africa and South Korea, Pilatus Flugzeugwerke AG stated that it would no longer play a «cat-and-mouse game» with the authorities regarding the conversion of its products into war material ( In order to combat international drug trafficking more effectively, Switzerland dispatched police attachés to embassies abroad to gather information directly in the field (

Suspicious transactions

In 1993, Switzerland continued to provide aid to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. However, the countries that had emerged from the Soviet Union often failed to meet the strict conditions required for the granting of loans: rule of law, democracy and market economy reforms. As these countries were important partners within the Commonwealth of Independent States, and together with Switzerland formed a voting group at the Bretton Woods institutions, they nevertheless benefited from assistance funds, despite their lack of reforms. By taking the lead in the so-called «Helvetistan» group, Switzerland «has not taken on an easy task», commented the FDFA on the occasion of the trip by the Finance Minister, Federal Councillor Otto Stich, to Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. ( Relations with the post-Soviet space soon showed their dark side: «Recently, there have been increasing signs of dubious dealings between nationals of former USSR states and the West, and Switzerland in particular» mentioned FDFA State Secretary Jakob Kellenberger to the Department of Justice and Police. The country should not become a hub for corrupt mafia businesses, he warned emphatically (

Neutrality and NATO

In November 1993, the Federal Council adopted the result of a long process of reflection on Switzerland’s role in international relations after the end of the Cold War. Its «Report on Swiss foreign policy in the 1990s» envisaged greater Swiss participation in international processes. However, strong reservations were expressed about a participation in NATO. During the discussion, Justice Minister Arnold Koller warned against such advances, «because you can’t be just a little pregnant» ( The Department of Foreign Affairs also feared that cooperation with NATO could be «misinterpreted by some sections of the population as an abandonment of neutrality» ( According to the FDFA, the initiative launched by the United States for a more flexible «Partnership for Peace» corresponded on the other hand «quite precisely to Switzerland’s needs for a successive convergence» in the direction of defence and security policy cooperation with NATO ( As early as May, the Federal Council took a decision of principle, granting overflight authorisations with the idea that imposing UN military coercive measures was compatible with neutrality. At the end of the year, it actually authorised NATO reconnaissance aircrafts bound for Bosnia-Herzegovina to use Swiss airspace (

Triumphant adversaries and good friends

On 9 November 1993, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers announced that the Community was ready to open bilateral sectoral negotiations with Switzerland. The Federal Council’s first interim objective had been achieved. However, not everyone was happy about this, especially those who had supported the EEA the previous year. «The triumph now belongs to the other side,» summed up a Socialist member of the Council of States during a debate in the Committee: «It was Blocher who said that the EC would already negotiate with us, and he is now right». Federal Councillor Cotti put this success into perspective with all due caution. «Good lawyers, if not friends, worked on Switzerland’s behalf» to get the Member States to agree to Switzerland’s negotiating position. Federal Councillor Delamuraz emphasised that the EU’s demands concerning the adoption of the acquis communautaire, «the institutional aspects that caused so much pain in the discussions on 6 December», had by no means been set aside, and that the institutional consequences for Switzerland would be the subject of tough negotiations (

«The Federal Council’s charm offensive had clearly borne fruit: the first hurdle on the road to bilateral agreements with the EU was cleared at the end of 1993» affirms Sacha Zala, Director of Dodis. Despite this, there were still many obstacles to overcome before the conclusion of Bilateral Agreements I in 1999. The documents – which will be made freely available over the next few years – and the research carried out by Dodis will provide proof of this.


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