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Couchepin warns lack of debate could jeopardize EU accords vote

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, is optimistic that the Swiss will vote "yes" in the EU bilateral accords referendum, but warns that a lack of information might jeopardize the outcome.

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has said he is optimistic that the Swiss will give their seal of approval to the country's bilateral accords with the European Union. But, addressing delegates at a Radical Party conference, he warned that a lack of information might jeopardize next month's referendum on the matter.

Couchepin said that with so little debate taking place in the run-up to the May 21 vote, and the fact that a large number of Swiss were poorly informed about the issues at stake, a rejection of the agreements could not be ruled out.

The minister went on to emphasise the fact that the government had no intention of trying to convert voter approval of the bilateral accords into EU membership. He said several key areas still had to be agreed on with Brussels, in particular security and asylum issues.

Although the Radicals had already thrown their weight behind the bilateral accords, the 170 delegates present at the conference in Pfäffikon, canton Schwyz, reaffirmed their support for the EU conventions.

On Friday they re-elected Franz Steinegger to a fourth term as Radical Party president, although Steinegger said he would step down before his term ended, to make way for somebody else to lead the party into the 2003 general elections.

swissinfo and agencies


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