The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has assured the Swiss president that he can count on Berlin’s support in securing new bilateral accords with the European Union.
Schröder held talks with Joseph Deiss in Berlin on Friday ahead of ministerial negotiations on nine accords expected in May.
Switzerland is hoping to conclude agreement on a second set of treaties, after years of tortuous negotiations. The key sticking point is the EU’s Schengen treaty on cross-border crime - the Swiss want an opt-out on part of the accord to protect banking secrecy.
Deiss said he had received a personal assurance from Schröder that the German chancellor was ready to lobby other EU states on Switzerland’s behalf. He added that he was confident agreement on the package of accords would soon be reached.
Schröder said retaining banking secrecy was a “sovereign decision” for Switzerland alone, and that Bern had given sufficient ground to suit both Switzerland and the EU.
The Swiss last year declared themselves ready to transfer tax on income on EU residents’ savings to Brussels provided they did not have to hand over information about the account holders themselves.
Deiss is the third Swiss cabinet minister to visit Berlin in the past month. Apart from the bilaterals issue, the Swiss have been trying to repair their “special relationship” with Germany, which has suffered because of disputes about flight noise and stricter border controls imposed by Berlin.
Deiss insisted that relations were excellent and said pragmatic solutions were needed urgently to resolve certain issues.
On the issue of flight noise over southern Germany - caused by planes heading for Zurich airport - Schröder said Germany would take part in talks to resolve the dispute. Germany has unilaterally imposed restrictions on night flights over its airspace.
Both men declared that a political solution was needed, with Schröder assuring Deiss that a Swiss legal suit to prevent the restrictions would not be held against Bern.
However, the German chancellor reiterated his support for an earlier proposal on flight restrictions, which was thrown out by the Swiss parliament. Correspondents say the issue is unlikely to be resolved soon.
On Germany’s stricter border controls – introduced without warning last month – Schröder explained that these were necessary to combat the threat of terrorism and to enforce the Schengen agreement.
That explanation – given when the controls were introduced - failed to convince the former Swiss ambassador to Berlin, Thomas Borer-Fielding.
In an interview with swissinfo last month, he said: “It doesn’t make any sense to a reasonable person… The threat of a terrorist or a criminal crossing from Switzerland to Germany is minimal. Switzerland is surrounded by Schengen countries and it’s extremely difficult for terrorists to get into the country in the first place.”
Germany denies suggestions that it is trying to put pressure on Switzerland to sign up to the Schengen agreement.
The Swiss cabinet said this week that it hoped to conclude the nine bilateral accords at a ministerial-level meeting in Brussels on May 7. In recent weeks, the cabinet has signalled that an agreement is likely.
A deal needs to be finalised by June if it is to take effect from next year.
swissinfo with agencies
A first set of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU came into force on June 1, 2002.
Negotiations over a second set of bilateral agreements, including the taxation of EU residents’ savings in Switzerland and accession to the Schengen accord are continuing.
Swiss relations with Germany have been strained over disputes about flight noise and border checks unilaterally imposed by Berlin.
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