Monday, 24 February 2014

Bavarians, Scots and the Swiss

I was recently in Munich on business and attended a networking reception focusing on Bavaria's export economy.  I managed to chat to a few companies to try and guage their mood and thoughts on the upcoming year - particularly their image of the UK and the prospect of Scottish independence.  I raised the issue of the upcoming referendum as the issue is gaining increasing momentum within the UK and I wanted to know if this was also reflected in Germany.  I thought independence might have some resonance with the Bavarians as they and the Scots possess very strong identities.  However, as I soon found out, their current concerns lie nearer to home...

Bavarians see themselves as Bavarian first and German second.  In fact, when many people think of "typical German" they see men in Lederhosen, women in Dirndls eating weisswurst with pretzels and drinking beer - all of which originate in Bavaria - with, perhaps, the exception of the beer but that's a whole other blog entry.  So with such a strong identity, is there an appetite for independence in Bavaria and are they looking enviously at the Scots?

In conversation, the Bavarians seemed to be slightly bemused by the whole question of Scottish independence.  The Bayernpartei (Bavarian Party) stands on a platform of independence arguing that an independent Bavaria would be the 9th biggest EU country in terms of population and 7th in terms of GDP (By comparison, the SNP claim an independent Scotland would be 5th biggest in terms of GDP).  However, the party typically polls only 1% - 2% of the vote.  There has not been much coverage of Scotland in the German media, although this may change nearer to the referendum date, and, to be honest, there was very little interest in the subject.  Although if I had spoken to someone who worked for one of the German companies who have subsidiaries in Scotland, this may have been different.

What did concern the companies I talked to, however, was the results of another recent referendum - the one in Switzerland to impose a quota on immigration.   Around 25% of the population in Switzerland are foreign nationals and Germans have been one of the main beneficiaries of the 2002 Swiss–European treaty regarding the freedom of movement for workers.  Switzerland is Germany's 8th largest trading partner and the main concern in Munich was the potential consequences to Swiss - EU economic relations.  This has proved well founded as last week it was announced that the EU has suspended talks with Switzerland over its participation in EU research and education programme.

So it will be interesting to see how Swiss relations will develop - and if the Germans' focus will turn to events in Scotland in the future.

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