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Parliament clears main differences over accords with EU

The Swiss parliament Tuesday overcame the last major obstacles in the transport and labour sections of Switzerland’s bilateral accords with the European Union.

This content was published on September 28, 1999 - 17:58

The Swiss parliament Tuesday overcame the last major obstacles in the transport and labour sections of Switzerland’s bilateral accords with the European Union.

The first breakthrough came when both chambers agreed on how much money the government would pay to subsidise freight haulage by train.

The second major obstacle was cleared after the House of Representatives and the Senate ironed out their differences on how to protect workers in Switzerland against wage dumping once the bilateral accords take effect.

The Swiss-EU accords include agreements on rail and road traffic, economic and technological cooperation and the free movement of people between the 15-nation EU and Switzerland.

The accords still have to be ratified by Switzerland and all EU nations. Right-wing groups in Switzerland, concerned by what they see as a threat to Swiss sovereignty and an open door for foreigners, have repeatedly stated they will collect signatures to force a vote on the wide-ranging agreements.

In the transport sector, both chambers agreed that, once the agreement takes effect, the government will pay SFr2.85 billion ($1.9 billion) to subsidise the transfer of freight haulage from road to rail.

The amount of government subsidies had been a point of heated debate in parliament, where pro-environment parties had originally called for SFr3.3 billion ($2.2 billion).

The compromise was reached after it was agreed that government subsidies could increase if not enough heavy vehicles were using rail transport.

As part of the bilateral accords, Switzerland has to drop its 28-ton weight limit on trucks, thus allowing EU 40-ton vehicles to cross the country on the important transalpine trade route.

At the same time, the Swiss government is obliged by the terms of the Alpine Initiative vote in1994 to get transalpine road traffic onto the railways by 2005.

While it is unclear exactly how such a transfer will be undertaken, Switzerland is building two new transalpine rail tunnels at the Lötschberg and the Gotthard.

In the labour sector, both chambers agreed that wage levels defined in comprehensive labour contracts can be enforced if 30 percent of employers are in favour.

Trade unions have repeatedly said they want to make sure that the free movement of people will not lead to an influx of cheap labour from EU countries.


From staff and wire reports.

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