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Ogi affirms Swiss intention to join European Union

Flying the EU flag in Nice: Switzerland won't start accession talks before 2004

(Keystone)

The president, Adolf Ogi, has told European Union leaders that Switzerland is keen to join the 15-nation bloc, but said a decision on "re-activating" negotiations would not be taken before 2003.

Ogi's comments came during talks with EU leaders, who are holding a summit in the southern French city of Nice.

The talks took place at a meeting between the EU and leaders from 12 countries who are trying to join the Union.

The purpose of the meeting was to underline the commitment of both EU leaders and aspiring members to work together to enlarge the Union.

Ogi also reminded his counterparts of Bern's interest in new bilateral negotiations with the bloc, and emphasised Switzerland's support for EU expansion.

A key objective of the Nice summit is to agree on ways of streamlining the EU's decision-making abilities to accommodate up to 12 new members.

Joining the Union is a key objective of Swiss government policy, but Bern has committed itself to wait until at least 2004 before starting membership negotiations.

Unlike the other aspiring members at the meeting, including Turkey, Cyprus and former communist countries of eastern and central Europe, Switzerland has already rejected membership of the EU - in a nationwide vote in 1992.

Last May, Swiss voters approved a series of bilateral agreements with the Union, but polls show that a majority of the public is still opposed to full membership.

Switzerland has been attending the European Conference since 1998 with the status of "designate member".

swissinfo with agencies


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