The German defence minister, Rudolf Scharping, has met the Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi, in the capital, Berne. The two are both in the midst of extensive reforms and cutbacks in their armed forces.
The Swiss government has proposed slashing the army from its current strength of 360,000 troops to 120,000, not including up to 80,000 reservists. Germany is expected to have a total of half a million under colours, including reservists.
Both ministers reiterated their determination to retain conscription as a means of recruitment. Scharping said he was confident the German parliament would grant its approval, and also said he thought the German public supported the idea.
But the cuts to the Swiss forces may not be enough. The government is likely to be faced with a referendum on abolishing the army in two years' time.
Both countries' defence spending will be roughly comparable. Ogi estimates the new Army will cost SFr4.3 billion per year; the new German army will cost the equivalent of just over SFr35 billion.
Both ministers said they had learned from each other. Scharping said Switzerland had more experience in conversion work, using the military to perform tasks in civil society.
Scharping refused to comment on the domestic dispute in Switzerland on changing the military law to permit Swiss peacekeepers to be armed. German and a small contingent of Swiss troops serve side by side in southern Kosovo, but the Swiss are only allowed to carry sidearms for self-defence.
Both ministers discussed the long-term prospects of peacekeeping units in Kosovo. The Kfor troops are expected to remain in the Serbian province for several years. European powers like Germany hope the deployment of Nato and non-Nato units will increase cooperation between member and non-member countries.
by Peter Haller