thk. On Thursday, 3 September, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Switzerland for an official state visit. After having been welcomed with full honors at the Airport Bern-Belp she held talks with Simonetta Sommaruga, the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police and President-in-Office of the Swiss Confederation as well as with the Federal Councillors Johann Schneider-Ammann, Doris Leuthard and Didier Burkhalter. In the afternoon, there was a joint press conference with Angela Merkel and Simonetta Sommaruga and then the entire entourage moved to the University of Berne where Ms Merkel was awarded with an honorary doctorate. After a few hours, the spooky event was over and she left Switzerland again heading north.
It is difficult to assess this visit in retrospect. Critical voices are talking about a private visit to Ms Sommaruga that was fairly futile and cost a lot of money. Ms Merkel stayed in Switzerland for only six hours, a very short time considered the complexity of the issues and problems that exist between the two countries. The public learned only what came up at the press conference and that was not very much at all. In the run-up to the meeting it was already determined who of the present media representatives was allowed to ask a question, more than four were not approved, there was too little time. At the press conference, the two ladies seemed to agree in everything and that is very striking. They particularly stressed that the starting point for a cooperation of Switzerland with the EU had been “difficult” since 9 February 2014. It is in fact very strange that the representative of a direct democratic country judges a referendum in this way. It is perhaps a sign of the times that the brotherly German-Swiss relations, with Germany as the big brother, have been transformed into a “sisterly relationship”; however on the occasion of a state visit to a sovereign state this is quite far away from reality. They were generous with niceties; they were, however, too many and not appropriate to the rather strained relationship due to unresolved problems. The stolen bank data, the dispute between Switzerland and Germany about a fair distribution of aircraft noise and other forms of pressure exerted on Switzerland seemed forgotten. It was unpleasant to see how the Swiss Federal President cosied up to the German Chancellor. Ms Sommaruga often spoke of Europe when she meant the EU what is probably more than just a slip of the tongue. She clearly intimated that the bilateral way “with the EU must be further developed and strengthened”. Not only the question of the free movement of persons was open, but it also involved the institutional framework that should govern the automatic (“dynamic”) adoption of EU legislation and determine who decided in disputes between Switzerland and the EU. It therefore involved legal adaptation, monitoring, interpretation, dispute resolution, and thus it ultimately concerned the question of sovereignty.
Ms Merkel paid due respect to the referendum of 9 February 2014 at least verbally, but made quite clear that the free movement of persons was one of the fundamental freedoms of the EU and was therefore non-negotiable. Ms Sommaruga confirmed it and she repeatedly stressed that the situation was difficult. There was also a discussion about the refugee wave in Europe – interestingly both agreed with each other in this issue.
Relatively much time was provided for the award of the honorary doctorate. The ceremony lasted for almost an hour. Merkel stressed in her speech at the University of Berne that it was a success that due to the Ukraine crisis all EU States had agreed on the sanctions against Russia. Whether this action against Russia was consistent with international law – international law is something Ms Merkel likes to refer to – is questionable. Well-known UN jurists like Professor Alfred de Zayas and the UN Special Rapporteur for the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures, Idriss Jazairy, strongly doubt this, because arbitrary coercive measures against a state or a group of states can be sanctioned only by the UN Security Council, and that is not the case with the EU sanctions.
Much like at the press conference, the naïve observer should probably get the impression that Switzerland and Germany were inseparable. A “friendly” relationship with a neighbouring state is always something we should strive for, but we should also never forget who the other one is. So the meeting between Merkel and Sommaruga left a very ambivalent impression which was marked by more illusion than reality. Urgent political issues were not resolved – probably really only a conversation among sisters? •
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