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Foreign minister pushes bilateral deals with EU

The interests of Switzerland and the EU often overlap Keystone

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has called for increased efforts to forge closer bilateral relations with the European Union.

This content was published on January 18, 2008 - 12:43

She warned that a failure by Swiss voters to approve the extension of a labour accord to Romania and Bulgaria would jeopardise ties with the 27-nation bloc.

The EU ambassador to Switzerland, Michael Reiterer echoed Calmy-Rey's warning, but added that the free movement of labour between the EU and non-member state Switzerland benefited both sides.

Speaking in Interlaken on Thursday, Calmy-Rey came out in favour of a framework accord with Brussels to manage the various bilateral treaties concluded over the past few years.

"We have to ask the question whether the bilateral relations could not be more dynamic and creative," she said.

Calmy-Rey also warned a tax dispute should not delay negotiations on an accord on electricity and a free-trade accord on agricultural products. Brussels and Bern are at odds over tax laws for foreign companies doing business in the EU.

"When it comes to politics there can never be agreement on everything between Switzerland and the EU," she said according to a text published in Friday's edition of the Le Temps newspaper.

She said the bilateral treaties might not survive if voters turned down a government proposal for extending the labour accord with new EU members Romania and Bulgaria, a ballot likely to take place in 2009.

"We have to approve the accord on the free movement of people. It is key to economic growth and the creation of jobs in Switzerland," Calmy-Rey said.

Ambassadors

Her speech came ahead of a news conference by Switzerland's new ambassador to Brussels, Jacques de Watteville.

In a related development, the EU ambassador to Switzerland confirmed that a rejection of the accord with Romania and Bulgaria could complicate relations considerably.

"A no to the labour accord would bring down the first package of bilateral accords and put an end to the policy of bilateral treaties," Reiterer told the Neue Luzerner Zeitung newspaper.

However, he said he was convinced that it would not get to that stage, since Swiss voters knew what was at stake for the country.

Reiterer added that a payment of an estimated SFr300 million ($272 million) by Switzerland to the two new eastern European member states would help make them competitive and more attractive to Swiss businesses.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

The government sees EU membership as a long-term option.

Switzerland is linked to the EU via a series of bilateral accords and the EU is Switzerland's main trading partner.

In the 1990s debate over Switzerland's policy towards Europe polarised the national political landscape.

Switzerland has been granting financial aid to countries mainly in eastern Europe to help them transform into market economies.

As part of the second set of bilateral treaties with Brussels, Switzerland pledged to provide SFr1 billion ($0.91 billion) to the ten EU member states which joined the bloc in 2004.

It is also likely to pay about SFr300 million to Bulgaria and Romania.

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