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Big day for Swiss government in Brussels

The Swiss have concluded the historic accords Keystone Archive

Switzerland and the European Union have finalised a new set of bilateral accords at a meeting in Brussels.

This content was published on May 19, 2004 - 15:01

The two sides signed an agreement on the nine dossiers after lengthy wrangling, but uncertainties remain over the Schengen accord on cross-border crime and an EU savings tax directive.

A top Swiss delegation met the European Commission president, Romano Prodi, and other senior EU representatives to wrap up the accords.

Switzerland was represented by President Joseph Deiss, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz.

During the meeting in Brussels the two sides gave their official agreement to the compromise deal, reached on May 13, in which the EU agreed to guarantee Swiss banking secrecy in exchange for Bern’s cooperation in taxing EU residents’ savings.

It signals the end of the political negotiations on the second cycle of bilateral accords.

Wrangling

Contrary to the first round of bilateral agreements, which took five years to negotiate, this latest round took just over two years. But it was characterised by wrangling between the two sides.

The final act will be the signing of the nine agreements, which include closer cooperation between the EU and Switzerland on security and asylum, the fight against international smuggling and customs fraud.

This is expected to take place in the autumn after the finishing touches have been applied.

The process might be further delayed as the accords have to be translated into all the official languages of the EU, which have increased since the ten new members joined.

It will be up to the European Council – which represents the member states’ national governments – to give the package the final go-ahead.

The accords should then come into force and for the EU, at least, the process will come to an end.

Uncertainties

But there are still some issues that need to be resolved and which could potentially threatened the success of these landmark agreements.

For its part, the EU still has to finish negotiations with other external countries, especially with associated territories such as the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Caribbean.

These negotiations are said to be progressing but last minute problems cannot be excluded. The EU has fixed a date of June 30 by which time it wants the directive adopted.

Before that European ministers are set to have what is expected to be a stormy meeting on June 2 in which they will be approving two annex declarations, which are linked to the compromise deal reached with Switzerland.

The first one grants Luxembourg the same rights as Switzerland on banking secrecy and the second, put forward by five countries – France, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden and Spain – serves to remind members that the objective of the EU savings tax directive is the exchange of information and not the deduction at source for taxes.

Ratification in Switzerland

Switzerland has yet to decide on the procedure for ratifying the accords – it could be that they will be put to referendum.

The accord most under threat is the Schengen agreement. The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has already announced its intention to hold a referendum on Schengen.

For this reason, Switzerland has been granted a two-year deadline to apply present and future legislation.

But a referendum on whether to extend the free movement of people accord to the ten new members of the EU is more risky, as it would call into question the first round of the bilateral agreements.

swissinfo, Barbara Speziali in Brussels

Key facts

The nine dossiers which make up the second set of Swiss-EU bilateral accords include:
Closer cooperation on security and asylum (Schengen/Dublin).
The fight against international smuggling and other forms of customs fraud.
Taxation of EU residents’ savings income in Swiss banks.
Education and vocational training programmes.
Membership of the European Environmental Agency.
Media – film production, distribution and training.
Free trade of processed agricultural products, such as chocolate, biscuits and pasta.
Access to pan-European statistics.

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