Opinions - 15.09.2017 - 00:00 

2017 Bundestag elections: Swiss-German relations

What impact will the election result have on German-Swiss relations? What are the most urgent issues from a Swiss perspective? And what challenges will characterise the coming years? By Casper Selg.

15. Dezember 2017. Black-Yellow-Green? Black-Yellow? Red-Red-Green? Does it matter? When it comes to Germany’s relationship with Switzerland, the result of the German elections does indeed not matter. Or not a lot.

When it comes to the fundamental differences between the two countries, namely the questions of living together and cooperation between neighbours in Europe, it does not make any difference what colour combination is governing in Berlin. In this respect, the big difference is only between Berlin and Berne.

Germany – the unshakeably convinced member of the EU

No matter whether Germany is governed by red or by black, it is an unshakeably convinced member of the EU. Whether, surprisingly, Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament (!), will become chancellor or whether Angela Merkel will stay in office, as we all expect her to, neither sees an alternative to a unified Europe: for them, the EU is a successful peace project, the EU is a model of economic success, and the EU is a strong voice for Western democratic values in an increasingly autocratically governed world. Accordingly, both of them will not yield a great deal of leeway in negotiations about the cornerstones of this EU. And one of these cornerstones is the free movement of persons – for both of them.

Whoever in Switzerland believes that as an important trading partner of Germany, it will be enough to take a tough stance in order to be able to tease out a special arrangement for Switzerland with the help of Germany, underestimates how central the open market and open borders are for Germany – no matter whether Black, Red or Gold governs in Berlin.

Programmatic differences of the government parties

This does not mean, however, that there are not certain differences depending on who wields power in Berlin. In the past, the CDU and the SPD with the Greens operated slightly differently with regard to various dossiers that concerned Switzerland.

Whereas the CDU, Finance Minister Schäuble and Chancellor Merkel wanted to tackle Swiss banking secrecy in a spirit of critical understanding, representatives of the SPD appeared to be more belligerent, as is well known. Besides American judges, it was German Social Democrats, in particular, who shot big holes into the thick walls of Swiss banking secrecy. In this instance, programmatic differences between the leading German parties had a direct impact on foreign policy and on the course of action taken against Switzerland.

Differences with regard to individual issues

There have also been differences of another kind, for example when it comes to transport policy, the endless issue of “noise near Zurich Airport”. CSU Transport Minister Ramsauer was once prepared to oppose his country’s own citizens’ initiative in South Baden in the interest of good relations with Switzerland and in coordination with its transport policy. Baden-Württemberg’s green-red government, however, quickly and indignantly supported the protesters’ demands.

Similar cases might occur if, for example, Swiss nuclear waste depositories should be built close to the border.

Generally speaking, a – very hypothetical – SPD-led government would have to be expected to pursue a slightly tougher line in individual areas. After the experiences with Switzerland with regard to tax evasion, which were extremely difficult in their view, the Reds’ and Greens’ understanding of special Helvetian requests is slightly less pronounced than in the CDU and CSU. This could have an effect when it comes to supporting Switzerland with regard to the issues of the European electricity market or of financial services.

Goodwill towards Switzerland

But apart from the fact that Red-Green is unlikely to be an issue: ultimately, the differences are slight. Basically, there is still a great deal of goodwill towards Switzerland among many people in Germany: this small, beautiful neighbouring country with the super-high wages, the super-punctual trains and the super-many cultures (but also with the super-high prices…). Germany will continue to look for consensus with Switzerland. As long as it does not come to very fundamental issues. Viz. banking secrecy, viz. Europe.

Casper Selg moderated the daily political programme of Swiss Radio, “Echo der Zeit”, off and on for a period of 30 years. He was its editor for twelve years. He also worked as the channel’s correspondent in the US and in Germany.

photo: weyo / Fotalia

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