OECD Territorial Reviews: Switzerland 2011


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Pages 160



Regions in Switzerland are performing well in many respects. They have high levels of GDP per capita and low unemployment rates, and some regions show impressive growth rates. In addition, Swiss regions have not been confronted with the challenges faced by many similar regions in the OECD, such as limited access to services and population decline due to ageing or emigration. Regional labour productivity growth still requires further policy attention.

In order to improve regional economic performance, Switzerland introduced the New Regional Policy (NRP) in 2008, following the 2002 OECD Territorial Review of Switzerland. The NRP reflects a clear shift of focus from infrastructure and financial assistance towards economic support for the creation of value added to the regional economy. The current review provides recommendations on how the impact of the NRP can be increased through extended territorial coverage, inter-cantonal co-operation, and co-ordination of sectoral policies. This review also takes a close look at regional innovation policies, arguing that a division of roles should be achieved, with the federal level funding research and technology transfer on a country-wide basis, and cantons providing innovation support according to functional areas.

The OECD Territorial Review of Switzerland 2011 is integrated into a wider programme of national territorial reviews undertaken by the OECD Territorial Development Policy Committee. The overall aim of the territorial review series is to provide practical policy advice to national governments. The countries previously reviewed are Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.


Key facts

  • Regions in Switzerland show impressive economic performance, with high GDP per capita, strong export performance and highly educated population compared with the OECD average.
  • Development challenges of Swiss regions are relatively modest: e.g. inter-regional disparities and the challenges of de-population, access to services and ageing are relatively limited.
  • However, labour productivity growth in several cantons has been lagging over the last decade, contributing to flat productivity growth at the national level.
  • Switzerland is a leading country in science, technology and innovation, but R&D and innovation activities have tended to stagnate.
  • Barriers to entrepreneurship and limited diffusion of innovation across regions and sectors leave some growth opportunities untapped.
  • Although cantons play a key role in regional policy, commuting flows and business cycles suggest that functional areas often go beyond cantonal boundaries, sometimes even beyond the Grandes Régions in terms of economic specialisations and co-patents. 


Key policy issues

  • Coverage of regional policy: lagging regions or other regions as well?
  • How to make sure that cantons design policies that correspond to functional realities (exceeding cantonal boundaries)?
  • How could regional and sectoral policies be co-ordinated more effectively?
  • What should be the role of regions and cantons in innovation policy?



  • Extend the coverage of NRP from rural, mountains and border regions to all types of regions.
  • Improve incentives for inter-cantonal collaboration.
  • Formally link (or merge) NRP and agglomeration policy, and better align NRP and agricultural policy.
  • Build strategic management and evaluation capacity at federal and cantonal levels.
  • Clarify the articulation and ensure complementarity between innovation promotion at federal and regional levels.
  • Further exploit the cross-border dimension of innovation.
  • Ensure transparency and performance-based NRP funding for innovation; implement better evaluation mechanisms and involve businesses.


Table of contents


Assessment and recommendations

Chapter 1. The State of Regions in Switzerland

Regions form an important part of the Swiss state. This chapter presents an assessment of regional performance in Switzerland. It first describes the economic characteristics and institutional role of Swiss regions. It then assesses their strengths and challenges in an international perspective. Next it turns to the inter-linkages between regions, in order to highlight possible policy needs. The chapter concludes by identifying the main policy implications, which will be analysed in Chapters 2 and 3.

Chapter 2. A New Regional Policy in Switzerland

Switzerland has introduced a New Regional Policy (NRP) to support regional value-added creation more effectively. This chapter explores four ways to maximise policy impact: i) extending the NRP’s territorial coverage to reduce economic fragmentation and support polycentric development; ii) designing stronger incentives for inter-cantonal co operation to facilitate policy synergies within functional economic areas; iii) enhancing co-ordination with sectoral policies, possibly through a formal co-ordination (or a possible merger) between the NRP and agglomeration policy, and closer collaboration between the NRP and agricultural policy; and iv) building strategic management and evaluation capacity both at federal and cantonal levels, while abiding by the Swiss principle of subsidiarity.

Chapter 3. Regional Innovation Policies in Switzerland

The Swiss New Regional Policy (NRP) places a focus on promoting innovation across the whole country. This chapter presents a critical analysis of the current framework of federal and regional innovation policies. It first discusses the instruments implemented at federal level and their potential role for promoting innovation in the region. It then assesses the state of development of innovation promotion initiatives at regional level, including those supported by the NRP, with a specific focus on the case of Eastern Switzerland. The chapter then concludes by identifying the main challenges for developing innovation policies in, and for regions in Switzerland, and derives policy recommendations for better articulation between policies and instruments developed at the levels of the Confederation and the cantons.

Annex A. The Development of Cantonal Income per Capita 1990-2005
Annex B. Inter-Cantonal Concordats, 2003


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