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GM crops and UN membership top parliamentary agenda

The Senate chamber has undergone a refurbishment ahead of parliament's summer session La sala del Consejo de los Estados ha sido completamente reestructurada en los últimos meses. (www.parlament.ch)

Parliament's summer session kicked off on Tuesday, with the legalisation of genetically modified crops and Swiss membership of the United Nations topping the agenda. Parliamentarians must also decide whether proceeds from gold sales should go to help the needy.

This content was published on June 5, 2001 - 14:43

The Senate is next week to open discussions on a law paving the way for the legalisation of GM crops provided they meet scientific and environmental conditions. Opponents of the law, supported by farmers and environmental groups, want a five-year moratorium on the commercial use of GM plants.

Less controversial is the debate over genetically engineered livestock - both sides appear to agree on a proposal to impose a 10-year ban on the commercial use of such animals.

The debate comes after Swiss voters in 1998 turned down a proposal to restrict genetic engineering and outlaw the patenting of animals and plants.

Also on the Senate's agenda is whether money from the sale of some of Switzerland's gold reserves should go to help the needy. Under the proposal, launched by the government in 1997, interest from the sale of 500 tonnes of the gold would go to a "Solidarity Foundation" to support efforts in Switzerland and abroad aimed at preventing poverty and violence.

Opponents, notably from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, have challenged the Foundation, arguing it is the result of pressure from abroad dating back to the recent controversy over Switzerland's role during the Second World War.

The authorities say the Foundation would target projects for young people and is in line with Switzerland's humanitarian tradition. They say it is unconnected with a 1998 agreement between Swiss banks and Jewish organisations in the United States.

The three-week summer session in the capital, Bern, will also be marked by discussions on foreign policy, including a proposal on whether Switzerland should join the United Nations. Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected UN membership in a previous ballot in 1986.

Also on the agenda is a debate about Swiss membership of the International Criminal Tribunal, to be set up in the Netherlands.

In other parliamentary business, the House of Representatives is due to consider a revision of the Swiss penal code. The amendments focus on extending the statute of limitation for child abuse as well as a ban on the possession of and the trading in pornography.

Both chambers of parliament are expected to debate a total of nine people's initiatives, covering army, health, labour and tax issues. But the final word on all these issues rests with the electorate.

As is customary during the summer session, parliament will also discuss the state accounts which show a surprising surplus of SFr4.5 billion ($2.5 billion) for last year.

by Urs Geiser

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