The government has welcomed voters' approval of a SFr1 billion ($800 million) payment to the ten new European Union member states and a unified child allowance.This content was published on November 26, 2006 - 19:13
Final results from Sunday's nationwide ballot show 53 per cent in favour of the EU funds. The unified child benefit proposal was supported by 68 per cent of voters.
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the payments to eastern Europe were Switzerland's contribution to stability and social equality on the continent.
"Switzerland has shown that it is a credible partner on the international stage," she said.
The Swiss government pledged to contribute the sum during negotiations on a package of bilateral treaties with the EU in 2004.
Calmy-Rey added that the positive outcome of the vote allowed Switzerland to continue a policy of bilateral treaties with Brussels.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but the Union is its main trading partner. A series of bilateral accords has been concluded with the EU and efforts are underway to negotiate further agreements.
The SFr1 billion is slated for a series of projects on the environment, infrastructure and education over the next ten years in a bid to close the gap between rich and poor regions in the new member states in Europe.
Parliament endorsed the decision, but the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which is known for its anti-EU stance, forced a nationwide vote. It warned the payment could prompt further financial demands and should be offset by cuts in development aid.
The SFr1 billion contribution is part of Switzerland's eastern Europe aid programme, which has been active since the 1990s and provides the legal basis for the payment.
Voters also endorsed the creation of a unified minimum child allowance, which had already been approved by parliament. The issue came to a vote after the business community – supported by the People's Party and the centre-right Radical Party - called a referendum.
Under the proposal parents will receive a SFr200 monthly benefit per child and SFr250 per child aged over 16. Currently the sum varies from canton to canton.
Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said the new regulations were an acceptable compromise. He added that small steps were the only way of making progress in social matters.
Supporters had argued the new system - due to come into force by 2009 – made the current system more transparent.
But opponents criticised the extra costs of the scheme, estimated at just under SFr600 million annually, to be paid mainly by employers. They also said it undermined the autonomy of the country's 26 cantons.
The vote is the latest stage in a 30-year effort to standardise benefits. Last year trade unions withdrew their proposal for a SFr450 monthly benefit, paving the way for a compromise in parliament.
In a cantonal ballot on Sunday, voters threw out a proposal aimed at making English the only foreign language in Zurich's primary schools.
Proponents had argued that learning two extra languages was too much of a burden for pupils between grades one and six. Their proposal threatened to derail efforts to improve educational coordination among the country's different language regions.
Zurich is in many ways considered a leader in education matters among Switzerland's 26 cantons, which largely determine their own school policy.
Multilingual Switzerland has four national languages – German, spoken by the majority, French and Italian as well as a tiny minority of Romansh speakers.
swissinfo with agencies
It was the eighth nationwide ballot on EU integration since 2002, including three votes in the past 18 months.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it has concluded 16 bilateral accords, including on trade, labour, taxation, asylum, transport and research.
Moves are underway to negotiate a free-trade agreement between Switzerland and the EU, as well as a deal on electricity.
Since the 1990s Switzerland has spent SFr3.5 billion on some 1,000 projects in eastern Europe. The SFr1 billion payment is to go to the ten new EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary.
Eastern Europe aid/SFr1 billion fund:
Yes: 53% - No: 47%
Unified child allowance:
Yes: 68% - No: 32%
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