The German president, Johannes Rau, has called on the Swiss to draw closer to Europe. Rau was speaking at the start of a three-day state visit to Switzerland.
The relationship between Switzerland and the European Union would be an important issue in the future, Rau added. He argued that the Swiss were a part of Europe, even if they weren't a member state of the EU.
Looking ahead to Sunday's nationwide referendum on the bilateral treaties with the EU, Rau called on the Swiss people to vote with a view towards the future. The German president said his country welcomed every step which brought the Swiss closer to Europe. He also recognised, however, that such steps could cause a conflict with Switzerland's federal tradition.
The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, responded to assurances made by Rau that Switzerland would remain integral to Europe regardless of the outcome of Sunday's vote. "It is reassuring to hear that from such a professional," Ogi said.
Swiss politics had been influenced by its mountain heritage, Ogi continued, and preferred to take small but steady steps. This, he argued, was proper in a country made up of four cultures and 26 cantons.
Following Wednesday's formalities, Rau will have a chance to see some of Switzerland's cultural wealth on the remaining two days of his visit. On Thursday he will travel to the country's youngest canton, Jura, and tour a school of watchmaking and microtechnology. Friday sees Rau head south to Italian-speaking Ticino to see the Museum of Modern Art in Lugano and take a boat trip on the lake.
swissinfo with agencies