European Parliament votes on bilateral accords
The European Parliament is shortly expected to ratify Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union, following a debate.
Analysts are predicting an easy passage for the seven accords, which cover issues ranging from agriculture to transport and the free movement of people.
The debate in the European Parliament was sparsely attended, with only 15 of the 600 deputies taking part in Wednesday's discussions.
However, all speakers called for approval of the treaty. One leading official, Massimo Carraro, said the ratification of the bilateral accords would be a vote of confidence by the European Parliament and would send a clear signal before the accords are voted on in a referendum in Switzerland on May 21.
Criticism was also levelled at Switzerland. EU Commissioner, Chris Patten, said Switzerland should be more cooperative in the fight against fraud and cigarette smuggling. He said progress on such issues was a prerequisite for any further agreements with Switzerland.
Last month, a key European Parliament committee, the commission for industry and external trade, recommended approval of the bilateral accords, virtually ensuring their adoption by the full Parliament.
Thursday's vote is an important hurdle for the bilateral accords, which must also be ratified by the national parliaments of all 15 EU member states before they can enter into law.
This may prove more difficult. Several EU member states, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, have been critical of Swiss delays in cementing relations with the EU. They see the accords as giving an indecisive Switzerland undeserved privileges in areas such as the free movement of labour, social security, and pensions.
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