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Interior minister says EU application long overdue

The interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, says a nationwide vote on Switzerland's bid to join the European Union is long overdue.

She called for the membership application, which was frozen in 1992, to be revived within three years so that a referendum can be held by 2006.

The Social Democratic minister rejected claims she was pressing for an acceleration of steps towards the EU.

"A vote in 2006, 14 years after the membership bid was handed in, cannot be called swift. I think it's even very long," Dreifuss said.

The government has so far refused to put a date on when it might reactivate Switzerland's EU membership bid. It fears being accused of misleading the Swiss people if it presses ahead too soon, having repeatedly said that a series of bilateral free trade accords adopted in a referendum in May were not a stepping stone to EU membership.

Dreifuss said she did not believe her statement would cause trouble for the government. She said it was intended as a personal contribution to the debate, and that it was wrong to assume the vote on the bilateral accords was the end of the process towards European integration.

swissinfo with agencies

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