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Migration concerns Schengen not working, says defence minister

Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer getting lunch at a home for asylum seekers in canton Bern

(Keystone)

There is no ‘asylum chaos’ in Switzerland, finds Defence Minister and Swiss People’s Party member Ueli Maurer, voicing an opinion that contradicts many of his colleagues in the conservative right political party.

“Right now we have the situation under control. But we are in an extraordinary situation,” Maurer said in an interview with the Lausanne-based newspaper Le Temps on Saturday. As he told Le Temps, he did not know how things would develop when the “wave of migrants” which had landed in Eastern Europe would arrive in Switzerland in the next few weeks.

Maurer described Europe as “completely flooded” and said that the Schengen Association Agreement was no longer working, especially in view of the recent crisis. All European Union (EU) countries as well as Switzerland are party to the Schengen/Dublin travel agreementsexternal link.

“It’s a real test – one that Europe has never dreamt of, and for which it is not prepared,” said Maurer, insisting that it was necessary to intervene directly in the conflict zones, in particular in countries bordering Syria and Iraq.

“Europe cannot absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees,” he said. In the first seven months of this year, around 340,000 refugees have crossed the EU’s borders.

In an interview with Swiss public television, SRF, on Friday evening, Swiss President and Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said that the issue would pose a challange for all European nations. She called for a reinforcement of the Dublin system in response to the “extraordinary situation”.

Another term?

In an interview in Saturday’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper, Maurer announced that he wanted to extend his term in office – despite the fact that he will reach retirement age, 65, on December 1.

“I have shifted my retirement and will compete in the federal elections once again,” Maurer told the Zurich-based newspaper. While he and his cabinet ministers need to be open to swapping posts, he said he would be happiest to stay at the helm of the defence, civil protection and sport ministry.

Maurer has identified four defence priorities: new equipment for soldiers, telecommunications and cyber defence, air defence, and new combat aircraft. For the latter, his goal is to have funding approved and in place by 2022.

As Sports Minister, Maurer said he would like Switzerland to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games.

“Switzerland needs innovation and a new sense of community,” he said. After Graubünden’s bid for 2020 failed, Maurer told the NZZ that he felt motivated to try again. “With our concept of sustainability, we could initiate a counter-trend to the gigantism of the Games like in Sochi.” 

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