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Royal visit from a likeminded country

Norway's royal couple is visting Switzerland Keystone

King Harald V and his wife Sonja of Norway are paying a two-day state visit to Switzerland this week, highlighting similarities between the two countries.

This content was published on April 5, 2006 - 07:39

The royal guests have been received by the members of the Swiss government in the capital Bern, before the Swiss president was to accompany them on a tour to Zurich and eastern Switzerland.

Norway - a country in the northern European hemisphere - and Switzerland - in the heart of Europe - have a few things in common both in terms of their foreign policy and their economies.

The Swiss outnumber Norwegians by 7.3 million to 4.5 million. But the Scandinavian country is ahead when it comes to gross domestic product (GDP). Its GDP per capita stands at €42,800 (SFr67,500) compared with €38,800 in Switzerland.

Both countries have a low unemployment rate of around four per cent.

On a political level, Switzerland and Norway have opted to stay out of the European Union and have instead been members of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) – with Iceland and Liechtenstein.

"The EU provokes fears in both countries. The Swiss fear for their farmers and the financial sector, while the Norwegians are concerned about the fishing industry and agriculture," says Stephan Kux, head of economic development for canton Zurich and author of a comparative study into European integration.

European integration

When it comes to relations with Brussels, the two countries have gone for a different approach. Norway joined the European Economic Area in 1994 – an agreement on free movement of goods, services, capital and people between EU and Efta countries. Swiss voters however had rejected a similar deal in 1992.

"Norway went for a dynamic approach of partial integration into Europe, the Swiss way has been one of static relations through bilateral treaties," says Kux.

The choice paid off for Norway, according to Kux, since economic growth in the Scandinavian country has been more pronounced than in Switzerland.

"Liberalising services, for example, has had a very positive impact on the banking and insurance sectors. The high price of crude oil has played a minor role in comparison," he added.

Human security

Norway and Switzerland share several objectives on the international stage, in particular in the field of human security and conflict resolution.

"There is close cooperation and a regular exchange of expertise," says Lars Knuchel, spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry.

The similar policy goals were apparent in the creation of a new permanent United Nations Human Rights Council – to replace the UN's discredited Human Rights Commission.

"Switzerland launched the idea, while Norway played a major part in setting the process in motion," says Knuchel.

Other examples where Swiss and Norwegian experts are cooperating to encourage peace initiatives are Sri Lanka, Colombia, Indonesia and the Middle East.

Trade

Ties between Switzerland and Norway are not quite as strong in the field of trade.

In 2005 Swiss exports to Norway accounted for just over one per cent of goods imported by the Scandinavian country. Norwegian exports to Switzerland stood at 0.5 per cent.

But Tony Moré of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) says the importance of bilateral trade is underestimated.

"The data is misleading, because many goods from Scandinavian countries transit through other countries, such as Germany."

swissinfo, Daniele Mariani

In brief

King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway are paying a two-day state visit to Switzerland on April 5-6.

Queen Sonja will inaugurate an exhibition in Zurich dedicated to Norway's influential playwright Henrik Ibsen who died 100 years ago.

Ahead of the visit, the royal couple paid a call to the Geneva-based United Nations refugee agency, the World Health Organization, as well as Cern – the world's largest particle physics laboratory.

To coincide with the royal visit to Switzerland, a series of conferences are scheduled, focusing on peace promotion, economic sustainability, equal opportunities and road safety.

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Key facts

Last year Switzerland exported goods – mainly machinery and pharmaceutical products - worth SFr596 million to Norway, up 14.3% from 2004.
Norwegian goods imported by Switzerland – mainly agricultural produce, oil, and metal products – accounted for SFr299 million, up 6.4% from 2004.
Swiss investment in Norway was about SFr2 billion – making it the eighth biggest investor.

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