Foreign Minister Plassnik visits Swiss counterpart Calmy-Rey
First bilateral visit abroad takes her to Switzerland
Vienna, 10 November 2004 - Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik's visit to Berne today - Minister Plassnik's first bilateral visit abroad - signals the consistently important role that Switzerland as a neighbouring country plays for Austria. "As measured by per capita volume of trade, Switzerland is Austria's most important trading partner; in 2003, Switzerland ranked 4th as regards exports and 3rd with imports", said the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
"However, it is not only at the economic level that we have an excellent relationship with our western neighbour", underlined Plassnik, making reference among other things to the exemplary cooperation between Austria and the Swiss contingent in Kosovo (SWISSCOY) or the joint organisation of the European Football Championship in 2008. "The fact that Austria and Switzerland were awarded in December 2002 the joint organisation of the Championship by UEFA is an honour and doubtlessly also a challenge. It is, after all, the third biggest sports event in the world after the Olympic Summer Games and the Football World Cup."
In addition to the discussion of current bilateral issues, the Foreign Ministers' meeting also offered an opportunity for exchanging ideas about European integration. "The high quality of the unique relationship Switzerland has with the European Union is very important to Austria. I view the recently signed Bilateral Agreements II, the "follow-up" to the Bilateral Agreements I, as an expression of the close ties between Switzerland and the EU. In my opinion, the Agreement represents a very balanced compromise for both sides and I am confident that the ratification process in Switzerland will have a positive outcome", said Plassnik.
Switzerland's participation in Schengen is clearly supported by Austria and the other EU Member States. "Thus far, experiences with Schengen have been very positive and there is no doubt that Schengen will bring substantial benefits in the field of interior security for Switzerland too, particularly through access to the Schengen information system with more than 10 million records on wanted persons, stolen objects, etc."
Foreign Minister Plassnik furthermore informed her Swiss counterpart about the organisational and thematic preparations underway for the Austrian EU Presidency in the first half of 2006.
International topics on the two Foreign Ministers' meeting agenda included the situation in the Middle East and Iraq, the dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue as well as the transatlantic relationship after the US election.