Today, more than 500 international organisations are headquartered in Switzerland, the majority of them in Geneva. Switzerland is also a member of various international institutions – for instance UNESCO (since 1949), the European Council (1963) and the UNO (2002).
League of Nations
Switzerland joined the League of Nations in 1920 after the application was approved by a majority of voters and a narrow majority of cantons. The first general assembly took place in Geneva in November 1920. Although Switzerland participated as a full member, it waived any involvement in the Council of the League of Nations on account of considerations of the law of neutrality. Information on Switzerland's policy as a member of the League of Nations and the considerations on which it was based can be found in the fonds of the Foreign Affairs Department (1768-1961) and the private estates of the former Federal Councillor Giuseppe Motta (1834-1990) and of the diplomat and delegate to the League of Nations William Rappard (1868-1972).
When the United Nations Organisation (UNO) was founded in 1945, it seemed at first that Switzerland would also join as a member. At least, to do so would have satisfied the Federal Council of the time that claimed mainly economic interests. Switzerland's accession failed, however, due to domestic political resistance. The personal files of former Federal Councillor Max Petitpierre (1914-1983) and the diplomat Walter Stucki (1915-1962) provide insights into these discussions. The political disputes of subsequent years are documented in the fonds of the Department for Political Affairs (1849-1980) and the Directorate of Political Affairs (1901-2000).
Nonetheless, Switzerland was involved in numerous UNO sub-committees from the very beginning and thus long before its accession in 2002. Corresponding information is available in the following fonds: Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, New York (1924-1993), Permanent Mission of Switzerland to International Organisations, Geneva (1955-1994), Permanent Representation of Switzerland to the United Nations and International Organisations in Vienna (1978-1992). Furthermore, economic issues are addressed in the fonds of the Federal Office of Foreign Trade (1883-2001).
In parallel, Switzerland also became a member of organisations and institutions of the UNO, such as the organisation for education, science and culture (UNESCO). The country represented its interests on committees and in organised conferences and formulated initiatives. Information can be referenced from the fonds of the Permanent Representation of Switzerland at the UNESCO, Paris (1950-1989), the Permanent Representation of Switzerland at the FAO, IFAD and WFP, Rome (1993 to date) and the Directorate of Political Affairs (1901-2000).
Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), it has maintained strong relations to the European economic area since the 1950s. It is, for instance, a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) founded in 1960. Switzerland and the EU have concluded bilateral agreements covering various areas such as air traffic, research, agriculture and the free movement of persons. This step-by-step integration is documented in the fonds of all of the departments concerned, predominantly in the fonds of the Integration Office EVD/EDA (1951-1996), the Department for Political Affairs (1849-1980) and the Directorate of Political Affairs (1901-2000). The personal files of various senior civil servants who played pivotal roles during negotiations are also available here.
Additionally, Switzerland has been a member of the European Council founded in 1949 since 1963. It is represented there on the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. Further information is available from the fonds of the Permanent Representation to the European Council, Strasbourg (1957-1988), the Mission to the European Councils, Brussels (1965-2000) and the fonds of the Federal Assembly at the European Council (1992-1995 and 1995-2000).
Tips for further research
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland with, among others, articles on the European Council (ger), the European Free Trade Association (ger), the UNESCO (ger), the League of Nations (ger), the United Nations (ger) and the European Union (ger).
- Website of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, FDFA.
- Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland with numerous digitalized and thematically edited documents on Swiss foreign policy since 1848 in the database Dodis, also on Switzerland's multilateral relations, for example with the League of Nations, the UN, the EEC or the EFTA.
Publications of the Federal Archives
Last modification 04.11.2019