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Calmy-Rey calls for pragmatism in EU relations

Calmy-Rey said much had been achieved this year in relations with Brussels

(Keystone)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey says that relations with Brussels should be "effective and based on the search for solutions".

Her Social Democratic Party, meeting in Bern on Saturday, voted by a large majority in favour of a European policy programme that backs Swiss membership of the European Union.

Delegates also voted to launch a referendum against a planned revision of the law on asylum.

Calmy-Rey said there were good reasons for Swiss membership of the EU but she recognised there were arguments that put such a move in a critical light.

It was therefore necessary for a discussion to take place on future Swiss-EU relations that did not simply rely on the status quo. And dialogue should be without taboos, she said.

Pro-European force

Calmy-Rey, who described her party as "the pro-European force" in the country, said in a speech that she recognised that much had been achieved by Switzerland this year in its relations with Brussels.

These included acceptance of the Schengen/Dublin accords on asylum and police matters, and the extension of the free movement of people to the ten new members of the EU.

But she admitted that the bilateral way that Switzerland had followed in its ties with Brussels was not entirely satisfactory, although relations had never been so close or beneficial.

"Our bilateral way... is something of a compromise between ambition and feasibility."

Calmy-Rey said the government would issue a report next year on the options that Switzerland had in its relations with Europe.

There should be a will to discuss the question of how Switzerland could shape its relations with Brussels as beneficially as possible, she argued.

Both the Swiss People's Party and the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland are strongly opposed to EU membership.

Referendum

In other business at the meeting, the party decided to launch a referendum against the planned revision of Switzerland's asylum law.

Delegates overwhelmingly voted in favour of the move, arguing that tougher measures in the revision were contrary to human rights and incompatible with Switzerland's humanitarian tradition.

The party is also considering launching a referendum against the planned privatisation of Switzerland's leading telecommunications operator, Swisscom.

The government announced on Thursday that it wanted to sell its majority stake of 66 per cent in the company, which is currently valued at about SFr17 billion ($13 billion).

A resolution, which was accepted almost unanimously, said the decision to sell the stake was not acceptable.

The party also came out against measures announced by the Swiss Federal Railways to reduce its cargo services around the country.

It decided not to launch a referendum on the revision of the law on foreigners.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

160 delegates of the Social Democratic Party held their assembly in Bern on Saturday.

They adopted the first part of the party's policy programme for Europe almost unanimously. This reviews the pros and cons of EU membership.

The party also decided to launch a referendum against the planned revision of the law on asylum, but not against planned changes to the law on foreigners.

Delegates threatened a referendum against plans to privatise Swisscom.

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