Foreign minister takes knock over handling of EU vote

Joseph Deiss has ruffled a few feathers with his pro-European stance Keystone Archive

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is facing calls to resign over his reaction to Swiss voters' rejection of closer ties with European Union. The right-wing Swiss People's Party says he should step down because his policies are totally at odds with public opinion.

This content was published on March 6, 2001 - 13:26

The People's Party - one of the four in government - called on Deiss to give up his cabinet post in the wake of a nationwide vote on Sunday, in which the Swiss overwhelmingly rejected an immediate start to talks on EU membership.

The call came after Deiss denied that the outcome of the ballot was evidence that Swiss voters were against EU membership in principle. He said the vote showed only that it was too early to start accession talks.

But, in an interview with swissinfo on Tuesday, People's Party spokesman, Walter Frey, told said it was clear that Deiss had not "accepted the result of the vote", and that he should go.

"It is well known that Deiss is very pro-EU - some people are even calling him a 'Euro-turbo' - and when you listen to him it is clear that he is not accepting the vote of the people. So it will be very difficult for him to negotiate with the EU on behalf of Switzerland, given his position."

The People's Party's call was rejected by Deiss's Christian Democratic Party. Spokesman, Jacques Neirynck, said there was no reason for Deiss to be singled out because he had only been following the cabinet's joint position.

He also denied the vote was conclusive. "You cannot reach a conclusion on the basis of the vote - there is a mixture of people who are strongly against Europe, and others who simply want to delay joining."

He said the People's Party's call was little more than a ploy to increase the number of seats it holds in the seven-member cabinet. "The People's Party wants a second seat in the cabinet and they want to take Deiss's seat.

Analysts say Deiss is almost certain to survive. He has the backing of the cabinet, as well as the other two parties in government - the Social Democrats and the Radicals.

However, they say the future of Swiss relations with the EU is less clear-cut. The strength of the "no" vote on Sunday surprised many pundits. Most media commentators took the view that the People's Party is right to believe that the vote is more of a judgement on EU membership than merely on the timing, as Deiss maintains.


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