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Differences remain over Swiss-EU accords

A special parliamentary debate on the bilateral accords signed between Switzerland and the European Union has failed to resolve all remaining differences, even though some compromise was reached on environmental and labour issues.

This content was published on September 3, 1999 - 09:50

A special parliamentary debate on the bilateral accords signed between Switzerland and the European Union has failed to resolve all remaining differences, even though some compromise was reached on environmental and labour issues.

The sensitive political and economic accords were signed by Switzerland and the EU in June but still have to be ratified by the Swiss parliament as well as those of all 15 EU member states.

The accords define economic and technological cooperation, public procurement, mutual acceptance of diplomas and licences, agricultural trade, aviation issues, road and rail traffic and the free movement of people.

Transalpine road traffic and the free movement of people have been the two most controversial points in the Swiss parliament.

As part of the bilateral accords with the EU, Switzerland has to drop its 28-ton weight limit on trucks, thus allowing the way open for EU 40-ton vehicles to cross Switzerland on the important transalpine trade route.

At the same time, the Swiss government is obliged by the terms of the Alpine Initiative vote a few years ago to get transalpine road traffic on to the railways within the next few years. To do this, two new transalpine rail tunnels are being built.

After tough negotiations, the EU has accepted the idea of a truck tax based on weight carried and distance covered to all trucks travelling in Switzerland.

The tax is meant as a disincentive to road haulage but Swiss environmentalists say a SFr325 ($217) levy for a 40-ton truck transiting Switzerland is not enough to make rail transit more attractive.

The government has thus offered accompanying measures, such as subsidies for rail freight, and a time scale for the transition from road to rail.

The Swiss section of WWF and Greenpeace have threatened a referendum if the government does not guarantee more protection for the environment, which is to say more financial subsidies for Swiss railways, and a shorter period than proposed to get the trucks from road to rail.

In fact, parliament has only partially fulfilled environmentalists’ demands. As a compromise, the Senate is offering SFr2.85 billion ($1.9 billion) per year instead of SFr3.3 billion ($2.2 billion) in subsidies, with the time scale for the transition remaining undefined.

The threat of a referendum therefore remains alive in Switzerland, political analysts say, if not from the environmentalists, then from the right-wing Swiss Democrats who are against the bilateral accords in principle.

The other controversial issue, the free movement of persons, has for the time being been defused as the House of Representatives has accepted further safeguards against possible wage dumping by EU workers from low-wage countries.

However, both the transport and free movement questions will only be finally
settled in the autumn session of parliament. And referendum threats will not be
made real till the last day of the session on October 8th.

From staff and wire reports.


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