The European Union is to embark on negotiations with Switzerland aimed at stamping out fraud. The 15 EU member states on Friday gave the go-ahead for the European Commission to negotiate an accord on closer cooperation.
In a statement on Friday, the Commission said smuggling and other illegal activities conducted through Switzerland cost the EU "billions of euros" a year. It described this as "unacceptable, in view of the closer economic integration between the EU and Switzerland".
The Commission said both sides had agreed at the end of 1999 on the need to improve cooperation in fighting fraud. It said the issue would be tabled at a joint meeting on January 19, when a new round of bilateral treaties comes under discussion.
According to the Commission, the EU sees closer cooperation in tackling fraud as "a precondition for further steps towards strengthening ties" with Switzerland.
Last month the Swiss government formally ratified a package of seven bilateral accords with the EU, covering areas from transport to the free movement of people. The individual EU member states have still to ratify the treaties before they can enter into law.
swissinfo with agencies