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Hollande heads to Switzerland to mend ties after tax squabbles

15 april 2015, 16:22

 French President Francois Hollande will arrive in Switzerland Wednesday for a state visit aimed at mending ties with Bern, clouded by squabbles over tax evasion claims, AFP reports.

The two-day stay is the first state visit to Switzerland by a French president since Jacques Chirac's stopover 17 years ago.

Paris is aiming to smooth over a series of spats with its wealthy Alpine neighbour centred mainly on tax issues, but is also looking to the enterprising Swiss for inspiration on education and green economic growth.

French presidents rarely pay a call to their Swiss counterparts: before Chirac's visit in 1998, Francois Mitterrand came in 1983 and Armand Fallieres stopped by ... in 1910.

The tax evasion issue has long weighed on relations between the two countries, as Paris has become increasingly impatient with French nationals taking advantage of Swiss banking secrecy laws to stash cash out of sight of tax authorities back home.

But the atmosphere has "improved considerably" over the past two years, the French presidency told AFP, adding though that Switzerland must "obviously pursue" its efforts.

Under pressure from France, the United States and other nations, Switzerland has been reforming its banking laws to crack down on tax cheats.

"Relations between neighbours require care. It is normal to have problems with your neighbours, but you have to talk about them, openly and often," Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told public broadcaster RTS.

Hollande is set to arrive in Switzerland at around 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), with six French government ministers in tow, and will be greeted by his Swiss counterpart Simonetta Sommaruga.

During his visit, he will meet with some of the 167,000 French nationals who live in Switzerland, and will also discuss the situation of the some 150,000 residents of France who commute across the border each day to work.

Many of them have seen their jobs threatened by the sudden surge in the value of the Swiss franc, which has hurt export businesses particularly.

Cross-border workers were also alarmed by a popular vote last year calling for Switzerland to strictly control immigration of EU citizens.

Hollande is expected to remind Bern of its longstanding agreement to give EU country nationals free access to its labour market.

On Thursday, he and Sommaruga are set to travel to Switzerland's financial capital Zurich before taking a special train on to Lausanne.

They will conduct a series of visits focused among other things on Swiss innovation in the area of environmentally sustainable economic growth and clean technology, the French presidency said.

After concluding the official part of his visit, Hollande will on Thursday afternoon meet with Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne.

Paris has indicated it would like to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

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