Swiss to boost ‘laptop’ diplomat network

Swiss embassy in Amman, Jordan as seen in 2018 © Ti-press

Switzerland is to send more diplomatic staff abroad after the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for more personnel on the ground, Swiss public television SRF reported.

This content was published on February 5, 2021 - 11:58

The first year of the pandemic has shown that there were too few staff in some representations abroad, the Federal Council (Swiss government) said in its report on foreign policy for 2020, which it approved earlier this weekExternal link.

Currently the country has around 170 embassies, consulates and representations around the world.

“The plan is to redeploy 35 people from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) central office [in the Swiss capital Bern] to the network abroad over the next four years,” the FDFA told SRFExternal link on Friday.

The Swiss diplomatic network was highly useful during the corona pandemic, added the FDFA, helping to bring more than 7,000 people back to Switzerland last year, in the largest repatriation operation in Switzerland’s history. The network also ensured that Swiss aid reached countries hard hit by the pandemic, the FDFA said.  

Smaller representations – often made up of one ambassador with a few local employees and known as “laptop embassies” – are expected to benefit the most from staff redeployment. “They must be able to remain operational, even if a crisis like the current pandemic persists,” the FDFA wrote.

The move marks a turnaround, SRF said, as it comes after a period of cost-cutting that has left some Swiss representations abroad “reduced to the minimum”. This brought criticism in 2019 from the country’s Federal Audit Office, which said it left smaller embassies “without a clear profile”. The Federal Audit Office at the time recommended a review of the portfolio of embassies.

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