There is a de facto customs union between Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein, based on the 1923 customs treaty between them, and the Swiss franc has been Liechtenstein's official currency since 1924. Today, a host of bilateral agreements form the foundation for the wide-ranging, close relations between the two countries, which also belong to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and over the past year all the members of the Swiss Federal Council have met their counterparts in the Liechtenstein government.
Meeting Liechtenstein Prime Minister Adrian Hasler and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Education and Culture Aurelia Frick in the country's capital Vaduz, Mr Burkhalter described the relationship between Switzerland and Liechtenstein as quite unique, calling it one based on "respect and special friendship". During his visit to Vaduz today, Mr Burkhalter, as the head of the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA), also met FDFA's young diplomats and the latest additions to its consular staff, who are traditionally invited to Liechtenstein at the end of their year's training, as since 1919 the Swiss representations have also been responsible for representing Liechtenstein's interests abroad. Today’s meeting with the young diplomats and consular staff was also attended by Mr Burkhalter’s wife, Friedrun Sabine Burkhalter, who had been invited to Liechtenstein by Ms Frick and her husband Oliver Muggli.
The talks centred on bilateral issues and the situation in Europe and also security matters and multilateral cooperation. Mr Burkhalter and Ms Frick spoke, for example, about the importance for Switzerland of the bilateral approach with the EU, the partnership with the EU and the current challenges. They also discussed potential ramifications of the new Swiss immigration legislation for Liechtenstein, which is part of the European Economic Area (EEA). Every day, some 10,000 people commute from Switzerland to work in Liechtenstein.
At today's meeting, Mr Burkhalter also invited Ms Frick to this year's four-way meeting of the foreign ministers of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Austria in Neuchâtel on 16 August 2015.
Joint goals at international level
Other topics at the talks were migration and the dramatic events in the Mediterranean and also security matters, including the situation in Ukraine, cooperation between Switzerland and Liechtenstein on cybersecurity and combating violent extremism. In this connection, Mr Burkhalter and Ms Frick also spoke about the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), which promotes local initiatives to protect at-risk groups from violent extremism.
Finally, the two parties discussed multilateral cooperation, for example within the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). "Switzerland and Liechtenstein are two important voices in the international community and speak with one voice in many areas," said Mr Burkhalter. Both countries are committed to, for example, reforming the UN Security Council, protecting women in conflicts and reinforcing the international criminal prosecution system. Connected to this, discussion turned to the initiative of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to ensure better compliance with international humanitarian law.
During his meeting with Mr Hasler, who is also Minister for General Government Affairs and Finance, Mr Burkhalter primarily discussed tax and finance issues in the context of international developments.
A joint force in the centre of Europe
Liechtenstein, like Switzerland, is strongly export-oriented, which is why innovative capacity and proper framework conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are given just as much weight as a high level of vocational education and training. For this reason, during his stay in Liechtenstein Mr Burkhalter visited the company Hilti in Schaan with Ms Frick. There, the talks revolved in particular around safeguarding and promoting innovative capacity in a globalised economy.