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Cantons seek to slow moves towards Europe

The cantons are worried that continued bilateral talks with the EU could threaten their sovereignty


Switzerland's cantons are fearful that the country is moving too quickly towards closer ties with the European Union. Cantonal leaders have called on the government to put the brakes on further bilateral negotiations.

In a letter delivered to the federal government, the Conference of Cantonal Governments says Switzerland must consider what effect its actions could have on Swiss neutrality and federalism.

They fear that the continuation of bilateral negotiations with the EU could lead to a loss of cantonal sovereignty.

Peter Schönenberger, the Conference president, said the cantons were concerned that they had been sidelined in the talks process.

He said they were calling for a meeting with the government's European affairs delegation to discuss their objections to the second round of talks between Switzerland and the EU.

On January 31 the government sent three letters to Brussels outlining its position on a second round of talks. The letters stated Switzerland's readiness to work more closely with the EU on fighting customs fraud and the country's willingness to enter the Schengen Agreement, which would mean an end to border checks on individuals.

"In the three letters... the government made proposals without the cantons' prior agreement," Schönenberger said.

He said that although the cantons approved of the Schengen Agreement, the asylum and security issues raised needed to be discussed with all the cantonal governments.

"Little by little the competences of the cantons are being eroded," Schönenberger complained. "It's high time to ask ourselves if we want to join the EU or not, and if so, what that would mean for federalism."

The Swiss government has formally ratified seven bilateral accords with the EU. The treaties cover trade issues, the free movement of people and air and road transport.

swissinfo with agencies


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