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EU urges talks on further accords

EU commissioner Chris Patten said that Brussels wanted to launch talks to secure a second set of bilateral treaties

(Keystone)

The European Union has called for a fresh dialogue to establish closer ties with Switzerland. The call comes as Switzerland is preparing to vote on whether to enter fast-track negotiations for EU membership on March 4.

In an open letter to the Swiss foreign ministry, EU commissioner Chris Patten said that Brussels wanted to launch talks to secure a second set of bilateral treaties.

The commissioner for external relations said the two should discuss issues such as customs fraud and a halt to tax evasion.

Patten's remarks follow calls earlier this month by the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, for a fresh round of negotiations with the EU.

Patten said that "exploratory discussions" on Swiss membership of the Schengen agreement would be broached, as well as talks on "fraud and other illegal activities."

Although the Swiss people approved the first package of seven accords last May, individual EU states have been slow to back the treaties and final ratification is not now expected before the summer.

Meanwhile, support in Switzerland for next month's initiative on immediate talks with Brussels on EU membership is waning, according to a recent survey.

According to a poll by the newspapers "Le Temps" and the "TagesAnzeiger", on Thursday, many people living in western Switzerland have changed their minds on how they will vote in the "Yes to Europe" initiative in the past month.

According to the poll, most Swiss-French are still in favour of the initiative, but only 46 per cent now say they will vote yes next month, down from 67 per cent a month ago. The newspapers predict that when it comes to the ballot, 39 per cent will vote no.

The Swiss government opposes the measure, saying it does not want to start negotiations before 2004.

Analysts say the majority of Swiss opposed to the initiative believe that the bilateral accords with the EU are sufficient for relations between Switzerland and the rest of Europe.

swissinfo with agencies


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