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Government urges no in EU vote

Pascal Couchepin (left) and Joseph Deiss outlined why Switzerland should not open immediate talks on EU membership

(swissinfo.ch)

The government has urged the Swiss people to vote against a proposal calling for the immediate opening of talks on joining the European Union.

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, and the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, appealed to voters to reject the measure when it comes to a nationwide referendum in March.

Deiss said that although the government has made EU membership a long-term objective, the time was not ripe for accession talks.

He said that for the time being, Switzerland wanted to continue building closer ties with Brussels through the negotiation of bilateral agreements.

Switzerland sealed seven accords on issues ranging from transport to the free movement of labour in December 1999. Talks on further agreements resume in Brussels on Friday.

"Membership negotiations must not be carried out under time pressure," the foreign minister said. "There must be continuity in the government's European policy."

He argued the proposal also violated the government's constitutional right to decide if and when negotiations on a foreign policy initiative should begin.

The economics minister, Couchepin, said that a "yes" vote on March 4 would lead to a referendum on joining the EU by 2003, but that Switzerland would not be ready.

"We will not have carried out the necessary reforms by then and the referendum will be turned down," he said.

Supporters of the initiative argue that Switzerland must press ahead and join the EU in order to have a say in building the future of Europe.

They argue that the longer Switzerland waits, the higher the political price of membership will become.

The initiative is being put to a vote after its supporters gathered the necessary 100,000 valid signatures to force a referendum. To pass, it needs to be accepted by a majority of voters as well as a majority of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

swissinfo with agencies

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