Deiss wins Belgian backing for closer Swiss-EU ties

Louis Michel (left) promised Joseph Deiss that Belgium would ratify the bilateral accords by November Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has won assurances from his Belgian counterpart, Louis Michel, that Belgium will support Swiss efforts to forge new bilateral agreements with the European Union.

This content was published on June 7, 2001 minutes

During his one-day trip to Brussels on Thursday, Deiss also extracted a commitment from Michel that Belgium would ratify by November a package of bilateral accords agreed between Switzerland and the EU in 1999.

Belgium is one of six EU member states that have yet to ratify a treaty on the free movement of people, on which the entire package of accords hinges.

Speaking to swissinfo after his meeting with Michel, Deiss said winning Belgium's support was crucial, particularly since Brussels is to take over the six-month rotating EU presidency from July 1.

The Swiss are hoping to start negotiations on a new series of bilateral agreements, and are keen to keep the issue high on the EU agenda.

"It's probably under [Belgium's] presidency that new bilateral negotiations will start," Deiss told swissinfo. "And we are hoping that under the Belgium tenure it will be possible to get the signal we are waiting for in order to start these talks."

Swissinfo's European Affairs correspondent, Markus Haefliger, who accompanied Deiss to Brussels, says Switzerland is worried that EU concerns over Swiss banking secrecy laws and cross-border fraud will delay or even jeopardise future treaties on issues important to Switzerland.

Those include joining the EU's Schengen and Dublin agreements, which do away with cross-border checks and provide for increased police and security cooperation in the area of asylum policy.

"What we want from the EU is that they say 'we are agreed to negotiate on [the entire] package of 10 items," Deiss said, after his meeting with Michel.

As well as Schengen and Dublin, those items include eight socio-economic issues, dubbed "left-overs", which were not covered by the first set of bilateral accords. Preliminary "technical" talks on future negotiations have been continuing in Brussels and Bern over the past four months, but Switzerland and the EU differ on how the various items should be linked.

swissinfo with agencies

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