German-Swiss talks centre on flight paths

The foreign ministry in Berlin hosted the talks Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has held talks with her German counterpart in Berlin on flight restrictions at Zurich airport.

This content was published on February 16, 2006 - 22:08

But there was no breakthrough on Thursday over flight paths into Switzerland's largest airport and the resulting noise pollution, which have poisoned bilateral relations.

In March 2003 the Swiss parliament rejected an accord with Germany, which sought to limit the number of flights permitted to use airspace over southern Germany before landing in Zurich.

In retaliation, Berlin unilaterally banned such flights to Switzerland's main hub between 9pm and 7am. This forced the airport authorities to open a controversial new flight path over affluent areas of Zurich, prompting widespread protest from residents.

They argue that the restrictions are having an adverse effect on property prices and public health.

Despite the close relationship between the two countries, differences over the aviation policy were not ironed out during the talks between Calmy-Rey and the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

After the meeting the Swiss minister said that bilateral relations were still affected by the disagreement over Zurich airport. She did not reveal either whether a solution was on the cards or give a time frame for an accord.

Steinmeier did call though for fresh talks, adding that he would discuss the issue with the transport minister.


Swiss relations with the European Union were also on the agenda, including further support for a rapid ratification of the second round of bilateral accords with the EU.

However, Swiss and German positions on current pressing issues on the international arena were wildly divergent.

One example where Bern and Berlin do not see eye to eye on is the recent electoral win of the militant Hamas group in the Palestinian territories.

Steinmeier recently said that Germany would continue to isolate Hamas as long as it did not renounce violence nor recognise the state of Israel.

The Swiss position is, in some ways, the polar opposite.

"Switzerland has made it clear many times that it was a democratic election which helped Hamas to victory," Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said.

He stressed that every country was entitled to its opinion and that Bern had also emphasised that it would only work with Hamas if it used dialogue and peaceful means and recognised the state of Israel.


In brief

Germany is Switzerland's largest trading partner. 20% of all Swiss exports go to Germany.
A third of Swiss imports come from its northern neighbour.

At the end of last year, 71,115 Swiss were resident north of the border.

Zurich airport is Switzerland's main flight hub, it is about 20 kilometres away from the border with Germany.

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