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MP criticises Commission stance on Switzerland

Bern and Brussels are at odds over the EU's Cohesion Fund Keystone Archive

A key European parliamentarian has criticised the European Commission over the terms of Switzerland’s contribution to the enlarged European Union.

This content was published on February 18, 2005 - 22:40

At the same time, Socialist Herbert Bösch from Austria praised the second set of bilateral accords between Bern and Brussels.

The EU parliament in Strasbourg is due to give its blessing to some of the accords on Tuesday.

In his position as vice-chairman of the EU parliament’s committee on budgetary control, Bösch has been dealing intensively with the Swiss dossier.

He told the Swiss News Agency on Friday that the committee’s unanimous approval of the Bilaterals II was an important step forward.

Fight against fraud

Bösch, who four years ago argued that the EU should have no accord with Bern until there were Swiss improvements in the fight against fraud, now says that Switzerland is not a "safe haven" for criminals.

He commented that the Bilaterals II represented a win-win situation for both the EU and Switzerland, with both sides having had to give and take.

Bösch told the news agency that after such successful cooperation, he had "absolutely no understanding" for the EU Commission’s demand for a binding agreement on Bern’s contribution to the EU’s Cohesion Fund.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the 25-nation bloc, wants a memorandum of understanding rather than a binding contract.

Bern has offered to contribute SFr1 billion ($840 million) to the fund at a rate of SFr200 million annually over the next five years.

Question mark

There is also a question mark over which countries should receive the funds, with Bern arguing that they should go only to the ten new states. However, the EU wants Greece, Spain and Portugal to have a share.

The issue is not formally under discussion within the EU parliament at present but Bösch said he would raise it during a speech on combating fraud he will deliver to a plenary session on Tuesday.

European Free Trade Association members on Friday discussed the cohesion fund issue, in preparation for the next meeting in Bern at the beginning of March between Commission representatives and Swiss negotiators.

A diplomat said after Friday’s talks that "a new phase of reflection" had begun.

He commented that after talks in Brussels at the beginning of February between the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and the EU commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the two sides had decided to calm things down.

The diplomat added that they had asked their lawyers to be "creative" to try to come up with a compromise.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Brussels and Bern are at loggerheads over the terms of Switzerland’s contribution to the EU’s Cohesion Fund.

Switzerland has offered SFr1 billion, to be paid over five years.

The EU Commission wants Switzerland to sign a binding contract, while the Swiss have argued all along for a memorandum of understanding.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but it does belong with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to the European Free Trade Association.

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