Exactly 50 years ago, on 14 January 1972, government representatives of the federal states and cantons in the area around Lake Constance founded the International Lake Constance Conference to jointly address issues of regional cross-border cooperation. The IBK includes the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Vorarlberg as well as the cantons of Schaffhausen, Zurich, Thurgau, St. Gallen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden and the Principality of Liechtenstein.
Chaired by Appenzell Ausserrhoden, this year's event addressed several of the neighbouring countries and region's cross-border concerns, including efforts to tackle the pandemic, vocational training, transport and energy. "In everyday life, cross-border cooperation is what connects our four countries the most. For the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), this cooperation is of the highest political importance. Cooperation in the Lake Constance region specifically – which is attentively supported by the IBK – plays a central role in this," said the head of the FDFA, President Cassis, addressing the Conference.
President Cassis also took the opportunity to meet with Liechtenstein’s prime minister, Daniel Risch, on the fringes of the conference. Both agreed that the COVID 19 pandemic clearly shows how important good and close cooperation among neighbouring countries is. Maintaining and expanding relations with neighbouring countries is a central pillar of Switzerland's foreign policy strategy. Against this background, cross-border and bilateral cooperation between Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein is to be further intensified.
Plans for a Lake Constance intergovernmental commission
For some time now, the members of the IBK have been advocating that the existing regional platform be supplemented by an intergovernmental commission. President Cassis not only supports the request, but is significantly committed to its realisation, in keeping with his leitmotif of "diversity and innovation": "The planned intergovernmental commission is an innovation for the Lake Constance region that unites the diversity of our four countries at the intergovernmental table and can advance it". He took the opportunity to present the FDFA's ongoing efforts to form an intergovernmental commission on Lake Constance: At the request of the heads of government represented in the IBK and in close consultation with the foreign ministries of Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, the FDFA will be holding a pilot meeting in early summer. The Lake Constance intergovernmental commission will be modelled on the longstanding and successful Franco-German-Swiss Intergovernmental Commission in the Upper-Rhine Region, and will cover the entire spectrum of neighbourly relations at state level. "I am particularly pleased that we have taken a significant step forward here. By supplementing the IBK with an institutionalised dialogue between the four countries' foreign ministries, we are responding to the wishes expressed by the region," said head of the FDFA Ignazio Cassis.
Added value through stronger involvement of foreign ministries
The envisaged Lake Constance intergovernmental commission, which will be headed by senior officials from the respective foreign ministries and consist of high-ranking representatives from the regions, will serve as an interface between the IBK and the national governments. It should lead to increased political coordination of strategic projects related to the national level in the Lake Constance region and thus create tangible and sustainable added value. Similarly to the Intergovernmental Commission in the Upper-Rhine Region, the envisaged Lake Constance intergovernmental commission will be tasked with addressing cross-border cooperation issues that cannot be handled at regional level by the IBK.
This 50th anniversary shows the long tradition of exchanges between the four neighbouring countries in the Lake Constance region – a valuable vessel for cultivating relations with neighbouring countries, Switzerland finds. And these relations will be further strengthened in the future with the Lake Constance intergovernmental commission. The summit also underscored the excellent cooperation between the Swiss Confederation and the cantons on cross-border issues.
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