EU bill for Bulgaria and Romania arrives
The European Union has officially requested Switzerland to continue financial aid to Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU earlier this year.
A spokesman for the Integration Office in Bern confirmed on Tuesday that the letter had arrived, but said no sums had been mentioned.
Switzerland has been supporting Bulgaria and Romania annually to the tune of SFr25 million ($20 million) over the past few years.
This transitional aid was meant to stop when the two eastern European countries joined the EU, which happened on January 1 this year.
The EU wants Bern to continue its payments. But according to Integration Office spokesman Adrian Sollberger, Brussels has mentioned no amount.
Previous reports have suggested that the EU is looking for around SFr300 million.
Switzerland – which is not a member of the EU - has already agreed to pay a SFr1-billion contribution to the ten new states which joined the EU back in 2004.
This sum is slated for a series of projects on the environment, infrastructure and education over the next ten years in a bid to close the gap between rich and poor regions.
The payment was pledged during negotiations on a package of bilateral treaties in 2004 and was approved by the Swiss population last November.
Sollberger said that this additional request, which came in a letter signed by the EU's Commissioner for External Affairs, Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, would be examined and the cabinet would give a response. No timeframe has been set.
According to the law on aid to eastern European countries, an extra payment would be possible, but would first have to be approved by parliament.
Until now the government has neither ruled out nor promised further aid, but has said there is likely to be no referendum on the issue.
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has also indicated that the country wanted to decide on the matter independently and would not be "dictated to".
The EU, which is Switzerland's largest trading partner, has already asked Bern to extend its free movement of people agreement with the EU to its two newest members.
Sollberger said that negotiations should begin in spring at the earliest.
swissinfo with agencies
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1 this year. The number of member states now stands at 27.
In 2005 Switzerland exported goods worth SFr594.4 million to Romania with imports totalling SFr254.4 million – a trade surplus of SFr349 million.
Exports to Bulgaria totalled SFr232.4 million and imports SFr87.1 million – a surplus of SFr145.3 million.
The government says the SFr1 billion over the next ten years is to go to projects chosen by the Swiss and not by Brussels.
It is financed through the budgets of the foreign and economics ministries as well as from federal finances.
Since 1990 Switzerland has spent SFr3.5 billion on about 1,000 aid projects in eastern Europe following the collapse of communism.
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