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Clearing the Hurdles

Nick Amies
April 20, 2008

Hosting a major international sports event always presents the organizers with a unique set of challenges. When an event is shared, the problems can sometimes double -- just ask Euro 2008 hosts Austria and Switzerland.

A sign at the Swiss border
Normally, the Swiss border would hold up EU citizens used to free travelImage: dpa

Even in the case of the European soccer championships, an event which takes place every four years, no single blueprint for success can be applied to every nation. Every host country faces its own set of problems arising from its geographical, cultural and social situation.

When an event takes place spread over two countries, those difficulties take on a more complex nature.

One of the major problems concerning the collaboration and cooperation between the two Euro 2008 host nations is that Austria is a member of the European Union and Switzerland is not.

The last European Championship to be shared between countries, the 2000 tournament in Belgium and the Netherlands, also had problems arising from such an arrangement: The single currency was still two years away, meaning fans had to change money between countries. Though full implementation of the Schengen free movement agreement allowed hassle-free travel between the host nations.

Fans wanting to follow their teams in Austria and Switzerland would normally face these same difficulties and more. As a non-EU country, Switzerland is not a signatory of any of the bloc's cooperation agreements in border security and policing and still uses the Swiss franc as its currency.

Because Switzerland is not a member of the Schengen Agreement, those traveling to the finals this summer with the intention of visiting both host countries would have needed to get two visas. Despite an agreement which allows the free movement of goods into Switzerland from the EU, the stricter provisions in the Schengen treaty do not contain any exemption with respect to Switzerland.

Visa deal

EU Passport sign at immigration control desk
The EU approved the plans for a special Switzerland visaImage: AP

However, while sharing the host duties can sometimes increase the potential for disaster, the old adage of two heads being better than one also applies. Add some more heads willing to come up with answers and even the most complicated of matters can be solved through cooperation.

A new simplified visa process was agreed at a meeting last year involving Christoph Blocher, Switzerland's then head of the federal council, Austrian Interior Minister Guenther Platter, his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble, and the foreign minister of Liechtenstein, Rita Kieber-Beck.

The meeting led to an agreement which will make it possible to travel in both Austria and Switzerland with a single visa for the duration of the tournament.

"The temporary visa operation will allow fans from participating countries that are part of the Schengen agreement to travel freely in Switzerland," Konrad Kogler from the Austrian interior ministry told DW-WORLD.DE.

"The joint delegations have held extensive negotiations with the European Union on this topic and were given approval. A contract had to be signed between the Schengen nations and Switzerland to allow this temporary visa arrangement."

Visitors will only have to apply for a visa in Austria, while Switzerland will explore whether there are any Fernhaltegruende or reasons to deny them entry. Providing that is not the case, the holder of a Schengen visa will receive a special additional Euro 2008 stamp that will allow them to cross the Austrian-Swiss border without any difficulties.

Joint border patrols

The border the fans will cross also cause headaches. While the visa will allow fans to enter Switzerland easier, the border will remain one between a non-EU country and an EU member state, meaning that it will still have controls. Who operates those controls was also a matter of discussion, negotiation and agreement.

"With problems like these, arising from the fact that one country is part of the EU and the other is not, collaboration and cooperation is key," said Kogler. "That is why, in regard to the border, there is also a temporary agreement in place for the championships where border controls will be manned by mixed teams from both countries."

A FRONTEX border protection expert checks a passport
An EU police collaboration will ease Swiss burdensImage: AP

Questions have also arisen over the wider implications for shared security. European Union countries are subject to agreements signed in Brussels which allow cross-border cooperation in policing. Again, as a non-EU country, Switzerland is not a signatory of any security agreement, although the Austrians and Swiss have made an arrangement for Euro 2008.

"In terms of policing, there are cooperation and collaboration centers in every host city in each country," Kogler said. "There are liaison officers from Austria in the Swiss centers and vice versa. There will not be any large deployments of police in each other's country. While this is not really an EU issue, it is a European policing issue, so there will also be officers from countries contributing to the Frontex external border security agency operating in both Austria and Switzerland during the tournament."

European cops assist in Swiss security

Last year, the Swiss Federal Council approved a request for support from beyond the co-host's borders made by a combined committee of regional police forces, after it became clear that the Swiss police force would be over-stretched.

German riot police during a training exercise
German police will be deployed in both nationsImage: PA/dpa

Although no "high-risk" games will take place in Switzerland, the help is needed as eight countries, including the co-hosts, will be based in the nation, and a high number of visitors are expected.

As a result of this agreement German officers will be deployed in host cities Basel and Zurich during the championships, and French police will be stationed in Geneva. The German police will also have a presence in Austria.

A question of currency

However, once safely through the border controls into the well-policed cities of Switzerland, most fans will still be faced with another problem: dealing with a different currency. Those from euro-zone countries will still be confronted with the constant need to change money.

While not all the participating countries use the euro, fans from those which don't will have extra problems: changing their own currency not only into the euro for use in Austria but also into the franc for Switzerland.

No solution has yet been found to ease the potential problem of thousands of fans dealing with two currencies during the championships.