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Government steps up moves towards UN membership

Adolf Ogi said the time was ripe for Switzerland to join the UN

(Keystone)

The government has asked parliament to give its blessing to Swiss membership of the United Nations, ahead of a nationwide vote on the issue which is expected in 2002.

The cabinet's proposal to take Switzerland into the United Nations was formally presented to parliament on Friday by the president, Adolf Ogi, and the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss.

Ogi said Switzerland had much to offer the UN, not least as a "model of how different cultures can live peacefully together".

The government's proposal states that Switzerland can no longer remain outside the UN in an increasingly globalised world. It says the UN is an ideal forum for small and medium sized countries to make their voices heard.

Speaking on behalf of the cabinet, Ogi and Deiss said Switzerland's foreign policy - with its new emphasis on openness and engagement - complemented that of the UN, and that the country would sit comfortably with the organisation.

A key element in the government's strategy of selling UN membership to parliament, and the public, concerned financial issues.

Ogi and Deiss said Switzerland had long been a generous contributor to the UN coffers, and that it was time the country had a say in how the UN budget is managed. They added that membership would help clear political obstacles for Swiss companies doing business abroad.

They also reiterated that UN membership would not compromise Swiss neutrality. Last month, the government said that the traditionally strict interpretation of Swiss neutrality should be applied in a manner "more in keeping with the times".

The statement followed a working group report on the issue, which focused on Swiss policy in the 1990s, and in particular the logistical support provided by Swiss troops in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo.

Political analyst, Curt Gasteyger, who was involved in those discussions, has told swissinfo that a bigger role for Switzerland in the international arena is not necessarily incompatible with its policy of neutrality.

"If one reduces neutrality to what it was originally understood to mean at the beginning of the 20th century - namely neutrality in case of war - Switzerland can participate in all sorts of activities without affecting this definition of neutrality."

If parliament approves UN membership, the cabinet plans to put the issue to a nationwide vote before 2003.

The Swiss rejected UN membership when it was last put to the vote in 1986, but they are widely expected to approve it next time round.

swissinfo with agencies

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