The FDFA is in charge of institutional contacts at international organisations, whereas the FDHA is responsible for the content of cultural dossiers discussed within these institutions. The FDHA and FDFA thus cooperate closely on multilateral cultural issues. As a non-member state of the EU, Switzerland has limited access to European programmes. Swiss participation in the Creative Europe programme is currently pending.
While the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) oversees cooperation at a macro-level (New Regional Policy- NRP, Interreg B), the cantons are principally responsible for the implementation of cross-border cooperation within the framework of the Interreg-programmes of the EU (Interreg A).
The status of the country within the EU is unique as it is not a member of the EU, yet is a member of the EEA and closely bound to the EU, both economically and culturally, being that it is surrounded by member states of the EU. Many questions currently remain unanswered about the relationship between Switzerland and the EU: after seven years of negotiations, the Federal Council informed the EU in May 2021 that it would not sign the Framework Agreement because substantial differences still existed in key areas of the agreement.
Regarding the different strategies, programmes and actors, the Culture Dispatch for the period 2021-2024 identifies a Bilateral and a Multilateral plan.
Bilateral level: Bilateral cooperation is executed both within and without Europe. During the 2016-2020 period, the Confederation expanded its network of cultural cooperation agreements. A general cultural cooperation agreement was signed with China, whereas sectoral technical agreements were signed with Peru and Mexico for the transfer of cultural assets, and with Mexico for Swiss schools abroad. Moreover, cinematographic coproduction agreements have been revised with the French community in Belgium and Canada.
Also in the 2016-2020 funding period, the federation launched the “International Panorama” project in order to attain an overview of cultural cooperation between Switzerland and other countries at the cantonal, municipal and intercity level.
The constitution grants the cantons subsidiary competence in foreign affairs, particularly as regards the conclusion of treaties on matters that lie within their own jurisdiction and when dealing directly with lower ranking foreign authorities (Art. 56). The cantons have acted accordingly on a cultural level by cultivating relations with regional authorities, cities and institutions outside Switzerland. There are rich and extremely varied international cultural cooperative ventures led by Swiss municipal authorities. However, to date there has been no uniform approach to documenting this cooperation. The collation of this data from the cantons, municipalities and cities will enable an overview or “Panorama” of this cultural activity.
Cities and cantons often manage their own or share artists’ studios abroad. For example, the cantons of Schwyz and Zug, together with the central Swiss cantons of Uri, Nidwalden and Obwalden, maintain a residential studio in New York. Cantons and cities initiate cooperation and projects with foreign cities, regions, or foundations. This cooperation generally receives no support from governmental institutions at the federal level. This kind of direct contact enables spontaneous collaborations to form and keeps bureaucratic red tape to a minimum. Grants and stipends allow cultural producers to spend time abroad. A few studios, on the other hand, are provided by the federal government, especially by the Federal Office of Culture (two studios each in London and New York) and by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, which supports residencies in various countries and cities around the world. Intercultural networks and cooperation develop from these dynamics.
Switzerland’s cultural diversity, primarily drawn from its significant foreign population, and its location “in the heart” of Europe, has led to a steady increase in national and transnational intercultural exchange programmes. Switzerland is a typical immigration and emigration country, aware that it owes its current standard of living not least to the economic and cultural exchange provided by its immigrants and emigrants. The Federal Office for Migration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Federal Office of Culture, all maintain constant relations with key international organisations, such as the Council of Europe.
The scientific studies, evaluations, and practice-oriented pilot projects of the not-for-profit Swiss Academy for Development (SAD), for instance, contribute to the constructive shaping of collective life in pluralistic societies within and beyond their national borders. Their programmes include health, education and employment both within and outside Switzerland and are aimed at the most disadvantaged groups of the population. SAD works closely with the Swiss Network for Education and International Cooperation and belongs to the Permanent Consultative Council (PCC) of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS).
As is also often the case in Swiss foreign cultural and educational policy, aims vary among those involved in intercultural dialogues. The participants themselves also accordingly fund transnational exchange programmes or language stays. Student exchange programmes, like Education First or the AFS intercultural exchanges, are popular among young people; with neither programme receiving public funding.
For the period 2021-2024, the Culture Dispatch intends to reinforce the relations with the neighbouring countries of Germany, Austria, France and Italy.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation targets its support at developing countries. Within Switzerland’s enlargement contribution, 57 countries from all continents are active partners. The SADC established in April 2019 a list of priority countries and focused regions with whom bilateral development cooperation, contribution or humanitarian aid takes place.
Multilateral level: For the Confederation, the main cultural multilateral platforms are the European Union, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organisation of the Francophonie.
In Europe, the European Union (EU) is the main cultural actor, with programmes such as “Creative Europe” (MEDIA and Culture). The Federal Council hoped to conclude an agreement with the EU to participate in the EU’s 2014-2020 programmes, yet this objective was not achieved. The Confederation has implemented a number of compensatory support measures to offset the knock-on effects for the Swiss professional sector. According to the FDFA, “Participation is under consideration for the upcoming 2021–27 programme.” (06/2021).
The EU Promotion Programme “Youth in Action” is also part of Switzerland’s portfolio. Up until 2013, the EU has granted a total of 886 million EUR towards the promotion of youth groups, youth charities, and youth facilities in 33 countries. Through these various means, the EU intends to strengthen the civic spirit, solidarity, and democratic commitment among young people, and to enhance their mobility and cooperation in Europe.
Switzerland is also actively involved in the EU Programme for Lifelong Learning. The European Commission has merged its various initiatives in the areas of general and occupational training (Comenius, Leonardo da Vinci, and Grundtvig) into a single programme, the so-called Programme for Lifelong Learning. Switzerland has been an associate member of this Programme since 1 January 2011.
Switzerland was elected in November 2019 to the Executive Board of UNESCO for the period 2019-2023. UNESCO currently faces financial difficulties following the retreat of some of its members, which entails a refocusing of the organisation’s activities on its priorities. The Confederation has ratified all UNESCO’s cultural conventions, such as world heritage, transfer of cultural goods, and intangible cultural heritage. Concerning cultural heritage, Switzerland currently hosts nine protected cultural sites and three natural world heritage sites. La Fête des Vignerons de Vevey, the Basel Carnival, the knowledge of avalanche management and the art and construction in dry stone are some of the Swiss elements entered on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The European Council has also currently been committing to austerity measures due to broader intra-European political considerations. The Confederation, therefore, has declared its engagement in protecting the place of culture within the organisation. The Confederation actively implements the cultural conventions of the Council of Europe that it has ratified. It has also engaged in the steering committee for culture, heritage and landscape, in the cultural routes programme as well as in the Eurimages programme – of great importance for the cinematographic landscape.
The International Organisation of the Francophonie is also an essential partner in current Swiss multilateral cultural policy. The Confederation participates in ministerial cultural conferences and accompanies the implementation of the organisation’s cultural policies.
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