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Swiss, Austrian leaders hail ‘crisis-proof cooperation’

Simonetta Sommaruga and Sebastian Kurz, with face masks, elbow bump in greeting. Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga has praised the strong cooperation between Switzerland and neighbour Austria over these past coronavirus-hit months and has pressed for good relations to continue.

This content was published on September 18, 2020 - 17:32
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She was speaking following talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is on a visit to Switzerland. Austria is one of Switzerland’s main trading partners and its borders with Switzerland have been a focus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kurz was received with military honours - with masks and social distancing - at the Lohn Estate near the Swiss capital Bern, which is the official estate of the Swiss confederation. Also present were cabinet members Ueli Maurer, Alain Berset, Karin Keller-Sutter and Ignazio Cassis.

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“Cooperation with Austria has proved itself to be crisis-proof,” Sommaruga said. “This makes me optimistic for the coming months as we will also have to operate in crisis mode, but also for further in the future.”

Kurz said that he wanted to intensify this cooperation. “We want to ensure, together, that our linked border regions can keep on working together as well as before and that there are no border closures,” he said.

Covid-19 infections have been increasing in Austria since late June, as they have in Switzerland and in other European countries. More recently the Vienna government has mainly blamed the rise on people returning from tourism hotspots such as Spain and Croatia. Vienna is a particular hotspot and is on Switzerland’s high-risk list.

In response to a journalist’s question about the ski season, Kurz said that winter tourism should take place, but that there would be restrictions placed on Après Ski and evenings out. A concept on this would shortly be published, he said.

For her part, Sommaruga said that Switzerland was currently still considering the issue.

Neighbouring Austria is one of Switzerland’s main trading partners, with trade and services worth €20 billion (CHF22 billion) between the two countries. Switzerland is also one of the most important investors in Austria. Swiss firms employ 34,000 people in their neighbour.

Diplomatic visits between the neighbours are common; Sommaruga last visited the Austrian capital, Vienna, at the end of January.

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