German-Swiss relations go down hill

Have you seen the Germans?

A “friendly” ski race among European parliamentarians at the weekend failed to thaw frosty relations between Germany and Switzerland.

This content was published on March 15, 2004 minutes

Normally well represented at the annual race in the Bernese Oberland resort of Adelboden, the Germans were conspicuous by their absence.

The event was organised by Swiss-based EP Sport, whose company motto, “when sports connect politics”, rang hollow on Saturday since only two German politicians showed up.

Relations between the two countries took a dive after the German government stepped up border checks ten days ago on people and vehicles leaving Switzerland.

Rigorous controls at 90 checkpoints between Basel and Lake Constance have caused lengthy tailbacks and much anger on the Swiss side of the border.

Germany has denied that the measures are in retaliation for Switzerland’s reluctance to sign a treaty aimed at curbing tax evasion.

German no-show

The official response for the no-show was that the Germans were tied up with important meetings at home. But the Swiss competitors could not hide their disappointment.

“I’m not very happy they didn’t come,” Swiss parliamentarian Trix Heberlein told swissinfo.

“It would have been really important to talk to them, considering all the problems we have with them at the moment.”

The 61-year-old Heberlein, a member of the Swiss senate, finished a respectable fourth behind three much younger Austrians in the women’s category in the giant slalom.

However, she said she would have preferred politicking to racing, and rather using the informal gathering to discuss the row between Bern and Berlin.

Instead, the starting line-up was thin and not very representative of Europe.

Alongside the dozen Swiss participants were eight Austrians, a few European Union MPs, a couple of Slovenians, a lone contender from Luxembourg - and the two Germans.

“I’m disappointed our most important economic neighbour wasn’t [better] represented,” added Max Binder, speaker of the Swiss House of Representatives.

Out in cold

Manfred Vohrer, one of the two Germans who made the journey to Adelboden, said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

“We are not aware of any ulterior motive behind the German government’s decision to tighten border controls,” he said.

While acknowledging that Germany had acted without warning, Vohrer explained that his government was merely following the letter of the European Union’s Schengen accord on cross-border crime.

Maximilian Reimann, a senator representing the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, which is strongly opposed to closer EU integration, disagreed that Switzerland was increasingly being left out in the cold by its neighbours.

“Switzerland is part of Europe,” argued Reimann as he waited at the starting gate.

“We are a member of the Council of Europe, along with 46 other nations. The Council of Europe is Europe and we have been a member for 40 years.”

One small consolation for the home team was the victory by Adrian Amstutz, a Swiss People’s Party parliamentarian. He said his main goal had been to “beat the Austrians”.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Adelboden

Key facts

It was the 11th time Adelboden hosted the European Parliamentarian ski race.
The organiser, EP Sports, holds several sporting events for politicians each year.
Supported by the Swiss government, EP Sports offers Swiss politicians the chance to foster contacts with parliamentarians from other European countries.

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