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Government to press ahead with UN membership plans

The Swiss government has indicated it will go ahead with plans to join the United Nations, even if a people's initiative on the issue fails to collect the necessary 100,000 signatures.

This content was published on February 25, 2000 - 09:51

The Swiss government has indicated it will go ahead with plans to join the United Nations, even if a people's initiative on the issue fails to collect the necessary 100,000 signatures.

After a special cabinet session, the government said it had decided to launch a comprehensive consultation process within Switzerland in order to present draft legislation to parliament by the end of the year.

UN membership for Switzerland was massively turned down by voters in 1986. Since 1998 a pro-UN committee has been collecting signatures to try to force another national referendum on the subject.

Joining the world body has been an objective of the Swiss government for many years, but until recently the cabinet has been wary about broaching the subject in the light of the over 70 per cent of voters who said no in 1986.

In fact, collecting the 100,000 signatures necessary to launch an initiative is proving to be difficult, and there are fears supporters will fail to do so by the deadline next month.

In the best of cases, the Swiss government would submit its draft at the same time as the pro-UN committee initiative comes before parliament. But, either way the issue has to be approved by a majority of Swiss voters and Cantons.

Many observers think the negative outcome of the 1986 vote was largely due to the lacklustre promotion campaign mounted by the government at the time To avoid a repeat performance, the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has been put in charge of a new public relations offensive.

Ironically, supporters and opponents of UN membership often resort to the same arguments to back their views. Supporters say Switzerland is a member of all the specialised UN agencies, and spends almost SFr500 million annually on UN activities, so it might as well join and have a voice in the General Assembly.

Opponents argue that the considerable Swiss annual contribution is enough and that there is no need to get more involved with the world body.

By Peter Haller

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