Situation in Europe and aid for people in crisis situations – Federal Councillor Burkhalter discusses specific measures with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

Press release, 30.03.2017

Bern, The direct contact and mutual understanding and trust that marks bilateral relations between Switzerland and Germany also constitutes the basis for deepening cooperation. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter discussed the joint commitment of both states in the areas of peace and security and the tackling of acute hunger crises with the new German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in Berlin. The two ministers also addressed the situation in Europe, Switzerland’s policy towards the EU and aspects of bilateral relations during their first official meeting.        

The Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, and the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, underlined the special quality of the relationship between Switzerland and Germany at their meeting. Mr Burkhalter remarked that bilateral relations were direct, intense and strong. Both states are pursuing the same objectives in many areas. Supporting crisis-hit people was a key issue at today’s meeting in Berlin. In view of the increasing number of conflicts and the acute food crises in Yemen and the Horn of Africa, Mr Burkhalter and Mr Gabriel discussed ways of alleviating the crises and providing people with aid. Another priority covered at the meeting was the situation in Europe and Switzerland’s policy towards the EU.

Mr Burkhalter indicated that a stable relationship between Switzerland and the EU was in the interests of both partners in light of many uncertainties, such as the impact of Brexit. Legal certainty is therefore a crucial factor in ensuring smooth trade relations. The volume of trade between Switzerland and the EU currently stands at around EUR 1 billion per working day. Switzerland generates about EUR 250 billion a year in trade with the EU which is around half of the EU’s trade volume with China. Switzerland believes that relations with the EU should be returned to normal and previously stalled talks and negotiations with the EU resumed. However, Switzerland is also waiting for the EU to take specific steps in this regard.

Urgent aid for people in crisis and conflict situations

Due to the famine in South Sudan and the looming food crises in Somalia and Nigeria, Switzerland earmarked CHF 15 million for financial emergency aid in February 2017. In Berlin, Mr Burkhalter also referred to the donor conference for Yemen which is being jointly organised by Switzerland in Geneva at the end of April. He underlined the importance of preventative measures in combating the causes of conflict. Providing people with local prospects deprives violent extremism of its breeding ground and helps reduce migratory pressure. However, the migration crisis must be tackled jointly by all states, which means involving the refugees’ countries of origin, transit and destination. Switzerland is therefore currently exploring – with Germany and other states, for example – ways of improving cooperation with Eritrea.

Federal Councillor Burkhalter and Foreign Minister Gabriel also emphasised the importance of mediation and conciliation which increases the chance of political conflict resolution. Switzerland and Germany jointly support the training of mediators. Both states are currently cooperating closely on the peace process in Colombia.

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