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Germany takes steps to ease border chaos

Stricter controls caused long tailbacks at the Swiss-German border earlier this week Keystone

Traffic congestion along the Swiss-German frontier has eased after Germany increased the number of police carrying out border checks.

This content was published on March 11, 2004 - 18:47

But Berlin said it had no intention of lifting the stringent controls it imposed last week, which caused long tailbacks on the Swiss side of the frontier.

"Traffic jams along the motorway have eased but there's a lot of congestion at the smaller border crossings," said Patrick Gantenbein, a spokesman for Basel's border authorities.

Gantenbein told swissinfo that German border guards were still applying rigorous checks on people and vehicles leaving Switzerland at 90 checkpoints between Basel and Lake Constance.

There was confusion on Wednesday after it was reported that Berlin would scrap the measures, which it introduced at short notice on Friday.

Isolation

The economics minister, Joseph Deiss, said the move was evidence of worsening relations between Switzerland and its European Union neighbours.

He said the border checks were an example of how EU members wanted to demonstrate the “difference between EU and non-EU countries".

Astrid Epinay, professor of European law at Fribourg University, agrees that the German measures highlight Switzerland's isolation from the EU.

"It's a fact that Switzerland doesn't count for very much in terms of power when it comes to [dealing with] the EU," Epinay told swissinfo.

"Not being an EU member weakens its position when it needs to defend its interests."

Tit-for-tat

Deiss, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency, added that there had been signs "for some time" of a deterioration in Swiss-German relations.

But the German government denied media reports that the measures were a tit-for-tat response to Switzerland’s reluctance to sign a treaty aimed at curbing tax evasion.

“Such wild speculation has no basis in reality. Germany enjoys an excellent relationship with Switzerland,” said Rainer Lingenthal, spokesman for the German interior ministry.

EU officials have defended Germany’s decision, arguing that the country was simply complying with the Schengen accord governing cross-border crime between EU and non-EU nations. That accord has been in force since 1995.

Customs tax

The move by Germany to impose stricter checks at the Swiss border comes less than a month after the European Commission unexpectedly announced plans to levy a customs tax on re-exports from Switzerland to its member states.

Two weeks ago the EU agreed to delay the introduction of the tax until June 1 after the Swiss authorities lodged an official protest in Brussels.

Swiss commentators have speculated that attempts by Brussels to tax re-exports, as well as the introduction of strict controls at the German border, prove that EU member states are stepping up pressure on Switzerland.

Stalled negotiations

Negotiations with the EU on a second set of bilateral accords have stalled as Bern and Brussels struggle to agree on how to proceed with discussions on nine bilateral treaties.

The EU wants Switzerland to sign up to one of the treaties - which would involve Switzerland transferring a levy on EU residents' savings income in Swiss banks to Brussels - as soon as possible.

Deiss has repeatedly maintained that Switzerland will only sign the accord once agreement has been reached on all the treaties.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Germany imposed stringent checks on people and vehicles leaving Switzerland on Friday.

Germany insisted that the move was in line with the standards set out by the EU's Schengen accord governing cross-border crime.

More German border police have been put in place to cope with the new measures.

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