Switzerland pays dearly for its representation abroad – some CHF1.2 million monthly is spent on rent across the world, according to a newspaper report. Officials reject claims of overspending and defend the need for propriety.
Diplomacy doesn’t come cheap: according to the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, the total cost to Switzerland of renting embassies, consulates, and official residences came to CHF14.3 million ($14.36 million) last year.
While some countries are cheaper than others – CHF542 monthly in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; CHF917 in Antananarivo, Madagascar – prestigious locations can cost the equivalent of annual salaries at home in Switzerland.
Of these, the consulate in San Francisco is by far the most expensive. Here, Bern pays almost CHF90,000 monthly for a hip, reconverted warehouse.
The consulate on Pier 17 has a view over the Bay Bridge, where it shares space with start-ups, design workshops and Silicon Valley types.
Embassies in Seoul (CHF49,500), Shanghai (CHF44,053) and Hong Kong (CHF51,000) are not cheap, while in the latter, the official residence of the Ambassador also costs CHF27,167 monthly.
Is this disproportionately expensive, asks the SonntagsZeitung? In some cities, such as Bucharest, the rent comes to over 20 times the equivalent of renting a ‘normal’ three-room apartment in the city.
Officials quoted by the paper say that this is a function of the local market, however, rather than a fault of Swiss judgement. In places such as Bucharest and Luanda (capital of Angola) there is a huge difference at different levels of the market, they say.
The Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics, responsible for sourcing the locations, also clarified that before each rent (or acquisition, when possible), a thorough overview of the local market and a cost analysis is done.
For Jacques Pitteloud, resources director with the foreign affairs ministry (and incoming Ambassador to the US), the question is also more symbolic: “it would hardly make sense for Switzerland, one of the world’s most important economies, to receive guests in a wooden shed,” he said.