Middle East and North Africa: a new strategy in Swiss foreign policy

Bern, 14.10.2020 - For the first time the Federal Council today adopted a strategy for the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This provides a framework for all Swiss foreign policy activities in the MENA region during the 2021–2024 period. The strategy builds on Switzerland's long-standing commitment to conflict prevention, humanitarian aid and development cooperation. It also identifies opportunities for Swiss businesses, seeks to harness the potential of a well-trained young workforce and promotes digitalisation and new technologies.

Switzerland's future foreign policy in the MENA region will focus on five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; digitalisation and new technologies. Reflecting the diversity of the MENA region, the new strategy is divided into three sub-regions: North Africa, the Near East, and the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. The thematic priorities vary according to the sub-region.

In North Africa, Switzerland's engagement will focus on good governance, sustainable economic development and the facilitation of safe and orderly migration. Switzerland is supporting reforms aimed at promoting a brighter economic outlook and increased civic participation. It also intends to conclude further migration agreements and assist the authorities of these states in receiving migrants.

In the Near East, Switzerland will support efforts to achieve a political solution to the conflicts in Syria and between Israel and Palestinians. It will also address the needs of young people in the region by promoting vocational skills development, thereby facilitating access to the labour market. With Israel – a global leader in innovation – Switzerland is developing partnerships in new fields such as fintech and medtech.

Through its protecting power mandates for the United States in Iran and between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Switzerland already assures communication between these states. In the future, it intends to take concrete action to promote dialogue between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula states and promote regional security. Other important issues in this region are economic and financial cooperation and sustainable natural resource management.

Strengthening the coherence and impact of Swiss foreign policy
As Europe's direct neighbour and on account of its geopolitical importance, the MENA region plays a key role with regard to the safeguarding of Switzerland's diverse interests. Switzerland has therefore been active in the region for many years and – not least thanks to its neutrality – is held in high esteem by all states. This new MENA strategy aims to improve the coordination of Switzerland's various diplomatic, political, economic and development policy instruments. It was drawn up by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in close collaboration with all other federal departments and with the participation of universities, think tanks and the MENA states.

The MENA Strategy 2021–2024 is the first of several geographical strategies to be adopted by the Federal Council in response to the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–2023. The other geographical strategies under way focus on sub-Saharan Africa, China and the Americas. Regarding the planned thematic strategies, the International Cooperation Strategy 2021–2024, which has already been adopted, will be followed by strategies on Switzerland's digital foreign policy, communication abroad, and arms control and disarmament.

Through these individual strategies, the Federal Council is giving concrete form to important areas of the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–2023 and strengthening the coherence of its foreign policy. A reworked overview of Switzerland's foreign policy strategy is available on the FDFA website, together with a new foreign policy glossary.

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The Federal Council

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs