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Great and good urge Swiss to tie up with EU

Next week Swiss parliamentarians are to receive a new appeal for EU membership Keystone

Dozens of Swiss personalities from the world of politics, business and culture have launched a campaign for Switzerland to seek European Union membership.

This content was published on November 27, 2003 - 08:46

The group says EU membership would allow Switzerland to better defend its interests in Europe, and has called on the government to begin talks with Brussels next year.

The astronaut, Claude Nicollier, star architects Mario Botta and Jacques Herzog, as well as four former cabinet ministers are among 72 personalities calling on the government to move much closer to the EU.

“We want to put the European question back on the negotiating table,” says Rolf Bloch, a businessman and one of the signatories of the appeal.

The group is due to send a document outlining its proposals to every Swiss parliamentarian, ahead of next week’s parliamentary session.

The Swiss government has said it will decide within the next four years on whether to open membership talks.

In 2001, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to start negotiations on joining the EU.

Cabinet elections

In a statement on Tuesday, the group argued that Switzerland was having to adopt European legislation, without actively participating in the lawmaking process.

Similarly Switzerland was becoming ever more dependent on the EU, while not having a say in EU policies, it added.

Campaigners are hoping that the issue of EU membership will be a key priority in the new cabinet, which will be elected on December 10.

“It is unthinkable that the new parliament should ignore Switzerland’s number one foreign policy issue,” says Jacques Pilet, a publicist and a signatory of the appeal.

“The political parties should agree on their aims ahead of the upcoming cabinet elections. So it is important that the issue is put on the agenda,” echoes Bloch.

Rightwing threat

The dynamics governing the cabinet’s position on EU membership have changed following October’s general elections however.

The vote saw the rightwing Swiss People’s Party – which is strongly against closer integration with the EU - win the biggest number of seats in parliament.

It is also demanding a second seat in the seven-strong cabinet on December 10.

“Negotiations on a possible EU membership have to stop immediately and the bilateral agreements have to be reviewed,” said Hans Fehr, a member of the People’s Party, shortly after the elections.

Bilateral treaties

Pro-Europe campaigners also took aim at Switzerland’s negotiations over a second set of bilateral treaties with Brussels.

Progress has been hampered by disagreements over the Schengen-Dublin accords on crime and asylum, and the extension of an agreement on the free movement of people.

Talks are currently underway on these issues, but Switzerland’s insistence on preserving banking secrecy has been a major stumbling block in the talks.

“The more time passes, the more it becomes clear that the bilateral treaties take a short term view of Swiss-European cooperation,” Pilet says.

The People’s Party has threatened the government with a nationwide referendum on the bilaterals, arguing that Schengen membership would undermine Switzerland’s sovereignty, as border controls would cease to exist under the accord.

A first set of bilaterals came into force in June 2002 and included a deal on the free movement of people between the current 15 member states and Switzerland.

swissinfo

In brief

Swiss personalities from the world of politics, business and culture have launched a campaign for Switzerland to seek European Union membership.

The 72-strong group says membership would allow Switzerland to better defend its interests in Europe, and want the government to begin talks with Brussels next year.

The group will send a document outlining its proposals to every Swiss parliamentarian, ahead of next week’s parliamentary session.

The Swiss government has said it will decide within the next four years whether to open membership talks.

But in 2001, Swiss voters rejected a move to start negotiations on joining the EU.

End of insertion

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