The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has reiterated the government's desire that Switzerland should join the European Union in an article published on Saturday in the French newspaper, "Le Monde".
"Given our geographical position," Couchepin writes in the paper, "and our common values of democracy and peace, as well as our economic interests, Switzerland and the European Union cannot ignore one another."
"In fact, the relationship should be quite the opposite," the minister adds. "They must get closer together. Joining the EU remains a desirable and probable objective."
Speaking about the terms of economic integration, Couchepin describes how "one could not imagine Switzerland signing up to the EU without also adopting at the same time the European monetary system."
But Couchepin admits that those Swiss who reject EU membership are doing so because they fear that "integration is a deadly menace to direct democracy, neutrality and federalism".
Meeting in Paris
The article in "Le Monde" appears ahead of a two-day visit to Paris by Couchepin which begins on Monday. Couchepin is due to hold talks with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, and with Elisabeth Guigou, France's employment minister.
The talks will mark the first official visit by Couchepin to Paris since he took over as head of the Swiss economics ministry three years ago.
The minister's remarks follow the publication in the same week of a survey by a scientific institute in Bern, which showed how the Swiss are becoming increasingly sceptical about the benefits of closer ties with the EU.
Swiss support for EU membership dropped by 10 per cent in June from 34 per cent in October 2000, said Gfs, the institute which published the study.
Of the 1,027 French- and German-speaking Swiss polled, only 24 per cent were in favour of fast-track negotiations for Swiss membership of the EU.
The survey also indicated that a majority of Swiss believe that seeking agreement on a series of bilateral accords is the right track to pursue.
A first round of seven bilateral treaties with the EU, mainly related to trade issues, and covering such areas as transport and the free movement of people, were ratified by the Swiss people a year ago. They have to be approved by EU parliaments, including that of France.
The process is expected to be concluded later this year.
swissinfo with agencies