Swiss President Doris Leuthard has met her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron for the first time in Paris. The pair spoke about Europe, common threats, and information-sharing on tax.
Just a few days after the visit of America’s first family to the Elysée Palace, Switzerland’s first politician was greeted by the French president at his official residence this morning.
The meeting, initially scheduled for July 3 but which fell victim to a clash in Macron’s calendar, took place in in a relaxed atmosphere, with both politicians hailing the strong links that tie the countries together.
Macron said that relations between the two were “old, close, and extremely strong,” while Leuthard underlined the importance and influence of Switzerland’s big neighbour: “when France does well, Switzerland does well too,” she said.
The Europe question
After the protocol, several political issues were up for discussion. For one, the 2014 Swiss vote to limit mass immigration, followed by the government’s compromise solution of preferential treatment for indigenous workers.
With over 134,800 French citizens living in Switzerland, and 173,000 more commuting cross-border to work each day, this is an important topic for the new French president, especially as he also built his campaign around an avowedly pro-EU message.
And with the issue currently stalled in Brussels, the support of Macron – whose France is one of the key motors of the European project – would be welcomed by Bern.
The French president was vague, but saluted the progress made. Steps have been taken “in the spirit of the founding values of the European Union”, he said, presumably referring to the Swiss efforts to reach a compromise solution which would keep links open with Brussels.
Hitting tax evasion
He also spoke of cooperation on fiscal affairs, something he said “has not always been easy,” but which is now “restarting on a constructive foundation.”
In the wake of several tax evasion scandals involving French nationals and Swiss banks, the sharing of information on individuals – which was blocked last year due to a UBS challenge – recently restarted after a court ruling.
UBS is suspected by the French tax authorities of putting in place systems which would allow French individuals to hide assets in Switzerland.
For Macron, clamping down on tax avoidance is another key priority, especially since his major economic challenge involves finding €4-5 billion in order to pull public deficits back to 3% of GDP, in line with European obligations.
Finally, the French president – who took office on May 14 – saluted the cooperation and engagement of Switzerland in the fight against terrorism, notably in the exchange of information with France.
He also praised Switzerland’s energy in supporting the fight against climate change, in the form of the Paris Accord.
swissinfo.ch with agencies/dos