The House of Representatives has begun a major debate on how much leeway the government should have in its policy towards the European Union. It is discussing two proposals.
The first is a people's initiative (a proposal which will have to be put to a nationwide referendum after collecting over 100,000 valid signatures) calling on the government to open membership talks with the EU immediately.
The house is also looking at a government counter-proposal reiterating its long-term aim to join the EU, but asking parliament to give it a free hand in deciding when to reactivate the membership bid. The bid was frozen eight years ago because of domestic opposition to closer integration.
The debate on how far and how fast Switzerland should go in integrating with the EU has been given fresh momentum with the adoption on May 21 of a series of a bilateral free trade accords with Brussels. Sixty-seven per cent of Swiss voters approved the accords, but there are widely differing interpretations among the four main government parties as to what the result means.
Pro-Europeans, particularly in the Social Democratic Party, say the vote indicates a will to press ahead with steps to join the EU. The three centre-right and conservative parties represented in the cabinet are more cautious. The Christian Democrats have backed the government's proposal, but the Radicals and the People's Party say they will not support either of the proposals.
swissinfo with agencies