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EU ready for talks on closer ties with Switzerland

Swedish prime minister, Göran Perrson (right), has sent a letter on behalf of the EU to Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger

(Keystone Archive)

The European Union says it is willing to press ahead with talks on further bilateral agreements with Switzerland. The message was communicated to the Swiss government by Göran Persson, the prime minister of Sweden, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

In a letter to the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, Persson said both the EU and Switzerland had a common interest in widening and deepening relations.

Leuenberger described the letter as a "breakthrough" in moving towards negotiations on new bilateral agreements to complement seven others governing mainly trade issues approved by Swiss voters last year.

Persson's letter arrived a day after Swiss voters rejected an initiative calling on the government to begin immediate membership negotiations with the EU.

In his letter, Persson said the EU was ready to discuss Switzerland's adhesion to the Schengen Agreement - which governs the free movement of people within the EU - and the Dublin Convention on asylum seekers and immigration.

He also noted that both parties were strongly interested in strengthening and extending their ties. "The Union is prepared to examine these and related issues each on its merits in order to see how cooperation with Switzerland can be increased in a mutually satisfactory way," Perrson wrote.

He added that the EU expected Switzerland to begin negotiations on fighting customs fraud and taxing interest on assets held in Switzerland by EU citizens. Switzerland has said it is prepared to discuss these issues, but says banking secrecy is non-negotiable.

Persson's letter was far more conciliatory than some recent EU messages to Bern. Last month the EU's foreign affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, hinted that unless Switzerland backed down on fraud and taxation, there could be no negotiations on new bilateral agreements.

swissinfo with agencies


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