The government says it has no intention of withdrawing its request for European Union membership, despite voters' rejection of a proposal to open immediate accession talks in a recent ballot.
Speaking in parliament on Monday, the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, said EU membership remained the government's long-term aim, and reiterated that the cabinet would decide by 2007 whether to begin membership talks.
He added that the first priority was to press ahead with a series of bilateral agreements with Brussels. Swiss voters approved the accords last May, but the ratification process has been held up in several EU member states.
Villiger said in the medium term Switzerland was seeking negotiations on a second set of bilateral accords, including agreements on tax evasion and customs fraud as well as closer cooperation on security and asylum issues.
The finance minister said the cabinet expected to start a new round of negotiations with Brussels in the near future.
Villiger added that there was no indication that the EU was trying to pressure Switzerland into talks on fighting customs fraud and tax evasion by delaying the ratification of the first series of bilateral treaties.
Responding to parliamentary questions, Villiger said the government was willing to consider increasing measures to combat tax and customs fraud.
He also dismissed concerns that the overwhelming rejection by voters of fast-track negotiations on EU membership could influence a nationwide vote, planned for next year, on Switzerland's membership of the United Nations.
The finance minister told the House of Representatives, meeting in Lugano, that the government would continue efforts to win voters' approval for Switzerland joining the UN.
"We will increase the dialogue with all groups involved," Villiger said. He indicated that the government was confident of winning over a majority of voters.
Switzerland is one of the last countries in the world not to be a member of the UN. But it contributes financially to the world body and is active in most UN organisations.
In 1986, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected UN membership at the ballot box.
by Urs Geiser