Parliament looks set to approve Swiss membership of the United Nations despite strong opposition from rightwing politicians, who say the move would compromise Swiss neutrality. Voters will have the final say at the ballot box next year.
The House of Representatives is on Wednesday expected to vote in favour of Switzerland joining the world body, after three of the four main parties in parliament declared their support, pointing out that Swiss foreign policy and the aims of the UN were identical.
They said several issues called for increased international cooperation, including the fight against terrorism in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
At the start of the debate on Tuesday, the Radical Party, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats said Switzerland would be well advised to play an active role in the UN.
They stressed that Switzerland's traditional neutrality could no longer be the only guiding principle of Swiss foreign policy. It was a mistake to consider neutrality as an excuse for an isolationist and selfish attitude towards the world, they said.
Risks for Switzerland
Opponents of UN membership, mainly from the right-wing Swiss People's Party, warned that it would jeopardise neutrality and national sovereignty. They argued Switzerland risked being drawn into international conflicts by an ineffective and costly institution.
They described Switzerland's role outside the UN as a historical success story, which must not be threatened in the future.
The two-day debate involving more than 70 speakers comes after the Senate overwhelmingly approved UN membership during parliament's summer session.
The Swiss electorate will have the final word in a nationwide vote scheduled for next year. Voters rejected a similar proposal for UN membership with a three to one majority at the ballot box in 1986.
Key foreign policy aim
The government has made UN membership one of its key foreign policy aims, and refutes suggestions that joining the organisation would compromise Swiss neutrality.
It has repeatedly said the UN is an important stage to represent the country's interests and values, and would enable Switzerland to get its voice heard on an internationally.
Switzerland is the only country besides the Vatican, not to be a full member of the UN. It has only observer status at the UN General Assembly in New York.
However, it contributes around SFr500 million ($311 million) annually towards the world body and it has joined most other UN institutions.
The Swiss city of Geneva is the seat of the UN headquarters in Europe and it hosts numerous UN bodies, including the UN refugee agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
by Urs Geiser