Mr Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), and Mr Schallenberg, the Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria, paid tribute to the close and multifaceted relations between Switzerland and Austria.
On the subject of current Swiss-EU relations, Mr Cassis reaffirmed the Federal Council's position to consolidate and develop the bilateral approach by entering into an institutional agreement to ensure that the bilateral agreements operate more effectively. For Switzerland, this step is conditional on reaching a solution on wage and worker protection, state aid and the Citizens' Rights Directive that has broad domestic support.
Mr Cassis explained the Federal Council's decision to closely involve the cantons and social partners in this process, and how Switzerland also expects willingness on the part of the EU to discuss this issue. The two foreign ministers went on to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Switzerland's engagement in the Western Balkans, the EU's enlargement policy and cooperation in the UN area.
State Secretary Roberto Balzaretti accompanied Mr Cassis during the visit.
Close ties between Switzerland and Austria
The two countries maintain extensive political exchanges and cooperate closely in the economic, cultural, consular and research fields. This close partnership is also reflected in ongoing cooperation in the multilateral field, notably within the OSCE, Council of Europe and UN.
The mutual trust enjoyed by Switzerland and Austria is built on regular diplomatic visits and consultations since the 1970s, involving all departments, Parliament, the cantons and the cities. Austria is one of Switzerland's most important trading partners (9th for imports and 10th for exports in 2018). Since 2015, trade in goods and services between the two countries has exceeded EUR 20 billion. Switzerland is one of the biggest foreign investors in Austria. Total Swiss direct investments in Austria at the end of 2018 amounted to CHF 10 billion. Around 34,000 people are currently employed by Swiss companies in Austria.
This is the first bilateral visit abroad by Mr Schallenberg as a member of the new Austrian government. The Swiss-Austrian tradition of the first diplomatic visit demonstrates the excellent relations between the two countries. It dates back to the Austrian Federal Chancellor Leopold Figl who in 1946 chose Bern for his first visit abroad as a sign of gratitude for Switzerland's generous post-war assistance. The two countries have honoured this tradition almost every year since then.
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