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Couchepin sees long life for bilateral EU ties

Bilateral treaties are the only feasible option for Couchepin

(Keystone)

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin says Switzerland is unlikely to become a full member of the European Union within the next ten years.

He said the current policy of bilateral accords with Brussels would remain a priority for some time to come.

"I bet you that the policy of bilateral treaties will go a long way. There is no other political option," Couchepin told the Saturday edition of tabloid Blick newspaper.

He said full EU membership was not an issue for Switzerland for at least another ten years - if at all.

The government wanted Switzerland to keep a high degree of independence, but it was an illusion to believe the country could remain autonomous, added Couchepin.

His comments come in the wake of Wednesday's cabinet decision to make EU membership a long-term foreign policy option, but no longer a strategic aim.

EU reports

The government also agreed not to withdraw the Swiss application for membership negotiations. The request was frozen after voters rejected the European Economic Area treaty in 1992.

Switzerland and the EU subsequently negotiated two separate sets of bilateral accords including trade, labour, taxation and police cooperation.

Couchepin said the government would discuss the advantages and disadvantages of full EU membership next year based on the findings of an official report.

"Five years later we will commission another report and again debate the results."

Arts Council

Couchepin rejected calls to dissolve the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.

He said it would be a mistake to merge the various cultural agencies in a single federal office.

"Culture must not be too close to the centres of power," he added.

Earlier this week the Christian Democratic Party launched a bid to centralise the five different offices or federal institutions dealing with cultural affairs.

The centre-right party said simplified structures within the administration would free up funds for the promotion of the arts.

Couchepin, who is also responsible for health matters, came out in favour of increasing cooperation among regional hospitals across Switzerland.

Parliament is due to discuss new funding schemes for hospitals as part of an ongoing debate on ways to cut spiralling health care costs in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 1992 Switzerland applied for negotiations on EU membership, but the request was frozen in the wake of voters' rejection of the European Economic Area treaty.
Switzerland and the EU concluded 16 bilateral accords.
Earlier this month the government decided to not to withdraw the request, but made full EU membership a long-term policy option, rather than a strategic aim.
The cabinet also agreed to the opening of an EU embassy in Switzerland.

end of infobox


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