The heads of state of the German-speaking countries have been meeting alternately in one of the states since 2004. The Principality of Liechtenstein has been participating in this exchange of views since 2005, and this year Hereditary Prince Alois von Liechtenstein hosted the event with the Swiss Federal President Micheline Calmy-Rey, the German Federal President Christian Wulff and the Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer as his guests in Vaduz castle.
At the start of discussions, Federal President Calmy-Rey emphasised that “our countries are joined by a common culture as well as shared values and mentalities which both foster and facilitate cooperation”, and went on to say that “we are all pragmatic and prudent, which stands us in good stead particularly in difficult economic times.” Nonetheless, she pointed out, there are still great challenges lying ahead.
The fundamental theme of the discussion was the education system in the four countries. For Switzerland education is not only one of the pillars of equal opportunities, but also a central component in its role as a business hub. Federal President Calmy-Rey referred to the dual educational system as a particularly successful model in Switzerland.
An additional theme addressed was the financial crisis in Europe. The Swiss Foreign Minister expressed her concern about the debt crisis in the Euro-zone. Switzerland has been severely affected by both the appreciation of the franc and the general decline in economic demand in the EU. Federal President Calmy-Rey also explained to her discussion partners the measures taken by the National Bank to peg the minimum exchange rate for the Euro at CHF 1.20 and to thereby signal its determination to enforce the minimum rate by buying foreign currency in unlimited quantities should it prove necessary.
With regard to fiscal questions, the Federal President Micheline Calmy-Rey expressed her satisfaction that it had been possible to conclude agreements with two important partners, Germany and the UK, in relation to withholding tax. The agreements represented a fair and lasting solution that would respect the need to protect the private sphere of individuals whilst also meeting the legitimate demands of Germany and the UK for tax payments. Other topics that came up for discussion included questions concerning integration, the important changes in North Africa and the Arab world, the situation in the Middle East and other international subjects.
After the working discussions, the programme included a visit to the National Museum, as well as a joint meeting with the members of the Liechtenstein government in the Parliament Building in Vaduz. A dense network of treaties and agreements exists between Switzerland and Liechtenstein that has resulted in particularly close relations: since 1919 Switzerland has represented Liechtenstein's interests abroad; the Principality has had the Swiss franc as its currency since 1924; while a customs treaty has been in existence since 1923 and a VAT agreement since 1994.
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