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European Parliament ratifies key treaties with Switzerland

The European Parliament has ratified seven key accords between the European Union and Switzerland. The agreements cover a range of issues, including agriculture, transport and the free movement of people.

Brussels correspondent, Regula Schmid, says the ratification on Thursday was seen as the best possible solution to the question of Switzerland's relationship to the EU.

"Everyone understands that having Switzerland in the middle of Europe being isolated, is just no way forward. So, having noticed that Switzerland does not want to become a member yet, the only way out was the bilateral agreements and they have been negotiated for so long, that there is no opposition left. "

The vote follows a debate at the European Parliament late on Wednesday attended by 15 of the 626 deputies. All speakers in the debate called for the approval of the accords.

One leading official, Massimo Carraro, said ratification would give a clear vote of confidence ahead of a referendum on the accords in Switzerland on May 21.

Schmid said that, during the discussions, the deputies stressed the need to put Switzerland's economic ties with the EU on a more solid basis.

"Everybody said how important it was to open the way for economic integration of Switzerland into the European market, without pre-judging any political actions, such as integration."

However the EU Commisssioner for foreign affairs, Chris Patten, did raise concerns about the problem of transit fraud and cigarette smuggling, or fiscal crimes within Switzerland, and said he would discuss those issues with the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss.

Besides the nationwide referendum in Switzerland later this month, there are still other hurdles. The parliaments of all 15 member countries of the EU have to ratify the agreement on the free movement of people, before all the treaties can enter into law.

Some EU countries, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, have criticised what they consider Switzerland's delay in cementing relations with the EU.

swissinfo with agencies

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