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Leuenberger visit reinforces Romanian relations

Moritz Leuenberger (left) received by his Romanian counterpart, Traian Basescu

(Keystone)

The Swiss government says it has no reason to fear a wave of cheap labour entering Switzerland once Romania and Bulgaria enter the European Union.

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger said Brussels had not yet called on Switzerland to extend the Swiss-EU bilateral treaty on the free movement of people to the eastern states.

Speaking in Bucharest during the first ever visit by a Swiss president to Romania, Leuenberger welcomed the eastern European state's imminent EU membership.

"The close cultural and economic ties between our countries will be further strengthened by EU membership," Leuenberger said after a meeting with Romanian President Traian Basescu.

His visit comes the day after the European Commission gave the green light for EU accession on January 1, 2007.

Switzerland will eventually have to renegotiate various issues with Brussels, including an extension of the free movement of people accord to the two new countries as well as financial contributions similar to the SFr1 billion ($800 million) Switzerland has pledged to the ten new EU member states.

The Swiss government launched a campaign on Tuesday supporting closer cooperation with the ten new EU member states, which will come to a nationwide vote in November. The SFr1 billion is the central issue of the debate.

An EU spokeswoman in Brussels told the Swiss News Agency on Wednesday that Switzerland should make a contribution to help support political stability and economic wealth in both Romania and Bulgaria along similar lines.

But the cabinet has not yet commented on whether it will make such a payment to the two countries.

Francophone summit

Traian Basescu thanked Leuenberger for Switzerland's financial support since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Switzerland has given SFr170 million ($137 million) since 1990 to aid Romania's transition to a market economy.

In 2005 exports to Romania totalled SFr550 million.

Leuenberger will remain in Bucharest to participate in the 11th Francophone Summit, which takes place on Thursday, the first time the meeting has been held in an eastern European country.

Delegates from more than 60 countries will be in attendance. Leuenberger is set to meet Abdou Diouf, former president of Senegal and current secretary-general of La Francophonie, the international organisation of French speakers.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Romania has a population of around 22 million, compared with Switzerland's 7.4 million.
According to the IMF, estimated per capita GDP in Romania was $9,446 (SFr11,750) in 2005, compared with $35,300 in Switzerland for the same period.
Over the past ten years Switzerland has contributed around SFr170 million in financial aid to Romania.

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In brief

Switzerland has been granting financial aid to countries in eastern Europe to help them transform into market economies.

As part of the second set of bilateral treaties with Brussels, non-EU member Switzerland pledged to provide SFr1 billion to ten new EU member states mainly in eastern Europe.

Under the accord, almost half the funding will go to Poland. Hungary will benefit to the tune of SFr131 million, while the Czech Republic will receive SFr110 million.

The EU's Cohesion Fund is a structural instrument that has helped member states reduce economic and social disparities and stabilise their economies since 1994.

The funding will come mainly from cuts in aid programmes run by the foreign and economics ministries.

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