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EU sends bill for Romania and Bulgaria

Keystone

The European Union will soon make an official request to Switzerland for financial aid to Romania and Bulgaria, who joined the EU on January 1.

This content was published on January 17, 2007 - 10:34

Although no sum has been explicitly mentioned, it is no secret that the EU is looking for SFr300-350 million ($240-280 million) from Switzerland over five years.

It was clear even before a referendum in November on contributing SFr1 billion ($800 million) towards the ten new European Union member countries that Romania and Bulgaria would also be included in future payments.

The delay on asking for the support is due to internal legal problems within the EU.

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is also the Swiss foreign minister, is expected to receive requests for payment over the coming days or weeks from both Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU Commissioner for External Relations, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister and president of the European Council.

The Swiss government pledged the SFr1 billion contribution during negotiations on a package of bilateral treaties with the EU in 2004.

The 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.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but the EU is its main trading partner. A series of bilateral accords has been concluded with the EU and efforts are underway to negotiate further agreements.

No rush

Until now the government has neither ruled out nor promised further aid.

In response to a parliamentary question from Hans Fehr, from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, the government said in December that "any further desire on the part of the EU would be subject to an assessment of the various criteria. The law on aid to Eastern Europe does not contain any obligation for additional payments, rather it permits them."

The government decided that a referendum would not be possible this time.

Calmy-Rey stressed that Switzerland wanted to decide independently. "We will not be dictated to," she told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper. "We did not negotiate over the billion francs we paid to the cohesion fund and we don't intend to negotiate over any further requests."

Bern had taken a year to reply to the previous request and will not rush into answering this time either. The government will first wait to see how much the countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) give to Romania and Bulgaria.

swissinfo, Simon Thönen in Brussels

In brief

Since 1990 Switzerland has spent SFr3.5 billion on about 1,000 aid projects in eastern Europe after the collapse of communism.

So far non-EU member Switzerland has agreed 16 bilateral treaties with the 25 EU member states, including the ten countries which joined in 2004.

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 the regular federal budget.

Parliament approved the payment of a uniform monthly SFr200 child benefit and SFr250 for children above 16. The rule doesn't apply for parents who are self-employed.

The money is to come from employers and partly from government funds.

The business community and parts of the political right collected more than 50,000 signatures to challenge the decision in a referendum.

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Key facts

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.

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