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Swiss mount joint response to German dispute

Cantonal representative, Rita Fuhrer, with transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger (right) Keystone

Switzerland’s federal and cantonal authorities have met to coordinate a joint response to a border dispute with Germany.

This content was published on March 22, 2004 - 21:05

Monday’s discussions come ahead of high-level talks between Germany and Switzerland next month.

The meeting brought together the Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, as well as the seven Swiss cantons which have borders with Germany.

Deiss said it was important to decide on a common strategy among all concerned. This would then be discussed in detail with Germany during forthcoming meetings between Swiss cabinet ministers and their German counterparts.

Grievances at the German border began earlier in March, when Germany tightened controls at crossing points, causing long tailbacks on the Swiss side of the frontier.

The move prompted concerns that Berlin was pressuring Bern to give way on stalled talks over a European Union accord on savings taxation. However, Germany insists it is simply acting on its obligations set out in the Schengen accord aimed at clamping down on cross-border crime.

The controls are still causing delays at some places along the border, although waiting times have been reduced since Germany increased the number of police carrying out the checks.

Coordinated effort

Deiss pointed out in the meeting that the cantons and the government had different types of problems concerning the border dispute. “We now need a united vision,” he said.

Rita Fuhrer, who represented canton Zurich at the meeting, said coordinating efforts would also cause less confusion in Germany, where only one region, Baden-Wurtemberg, is affected in contrast to seven cantons in Switzerland.

The foreign ministry will be in charge of coordinating efforts on the government side, while the Conference of Cantonal Directors will be asked to represent the cantons.

Other issues

Deiss said coordinating efforts to resolve the border dispute would also help to address the problem in the context of other issues.

Several grievances have strained relations between Switzerland and its biggest neighbour over recent months.

The introduction last year of restrictions on flights entering Zurich airport over southern Germany caused protests among the city's residents who are annoyed at the resulting increase in air traffic overhead.

Meanwhile, Swiss bankers are up in arms over a decision by Germany which makes it difficult for Swiss banks to access its financial markets.

These issues have sparked concerns within Bern that Switzerland is coming under mounting pressure from EU members to move forward with a set of nine bilateral accords with Brussels.

These concerns were further compounded in February by an EU decision to levy a tax on re-exports entering the EU from Switzerland.

Switzerland managed to convince Brussels to delay introducing the tax for three months, after complaining that it went against free trade agreements.

Meetings

Four Swiss cabinet ministers have plans to meet their German counterparts in the near future.

Deiss will meet Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Johannes Rau in Berlin on April 24.

On April 2, the Swiss finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz, will meet his counterpart, Hans Eichel.

Meanwhile, Calmy-Rey plans to hold talks with her opposite number, Joschka Fischer, while the justice minister, Christoph Blocher, will get together with the German interior minister, Otto Schilly.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The seven cantons that border Germany are:
Zurich
Basel City
Basel Country
Schaffhausen
St Gallen
Aargau
Thurgau

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