Bern and Berlin find common ground

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder assured Pascal Couchepin that he would support Swiss-EU ties Keystone

The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has pledged to support Switzerland’s bid to conclude a second set of bilateral treaties with the European Union.

This content was published on September 19, 2003 - 18:24

On a visit to Bern, Schröder also said he supported a political solution to a row with Switzerland over noise pollution out of Zurich airport.

He made the comments on Friday after talks with several cabinet members, including this year’s Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin.

Schröder said it was in Germany’s interest to see Switzerland forge closer ties with the EU by the end of the year.

He added that Berlin was willing to help Switzerland overcome remaining obstacles with Brussels.

Switzerland has been negotiating a second series of bilateral accords with the EU, but talks on closer police cooperation and customs fraud have made slow progress.

Couchepin said Switzerland wanted an existing deal with EU countries on the gradual easing of labour restrictions extended to the ten new member states.

Diplomatic solution

Schröder and Couchepin also agreed to seek a diplomatic solution to a long-standing aviation row rather than take the matter to court.

Schröder said he hoped the two neighbouring countries, whose transport ministers are due to meet next month, would be able to find a solution.

In March the Swiss parliament rejected an aviation accord agreed last year with Germany.

The accord sought to gradually reduce the number of flights approaching Switzerland’s main airport of Zurich over southern Germany.

Parliamentarians said the deal was weighted too heavily in Berlin’s favour.

“I don’t want to go back over the decisions not to ratify this agreement, but I think the regulations we have - with a bit of mediation - could still lead to some sort of political solution - and I’d like to encourage that,” said Schröder.

“But please understand there are certain restrictions on the German side, which naturally make the situation complicated for the German population. We have to see how we can reach a reasonable outcome - a political agreement.”

Flight restrictions

In May Germany held off unilaterally imposing severe restrictions on flights over southern Germany.

The measures, which include bans on night flights and over the weekend, are due to come into effect next month.

They would force the airport to reorganise landing routes and direct planes over affluent residential areas of Zurich – a proposal which has prompted widespread protests.

Couchepin pointed out the importance of Zurich airport for Switzerland’s economy and pleaded for an out-of-court settlement.

Schröder, the first German chancellor to visit the Swiss capital, Bern, in ten years, also visited a small mountain resort in the Swiss Alps.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Gerhard Schröder is the first German chancellor on an official visit to Switzerland since 1993.
In March the Swiss parliament threw out an aviation deal agreed with Germany.
In May Berlin imposed limits after Swiss government refused to ratify the aviation deal.

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