Swiss political parties have been deciding how to vote on an initiative calling on the government to start membership talks with the European Union immediately, when it is debated in parliament next month.This content was published on May 27, 2000 - 11:14
Supporters of the "Yes to Europe" initiative have gathered enough signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue, but parliament and the government must issue their recommendations to voters.
At meetings over the past two days, the Social Democratic Party came out in favour, while the Radicals and the People's Party have rejected both the initiative and a counter-initiative, calling for talks on joining the EU to be opened with Brussels, but giving the government more time.
The Social Democrats were quick to point out that Switzerland would pay a heavy price if the debate on entry into the EU were to be put off indefinitely.
The conservative parties, however, adopted an entirely different tone. Meeting in Berne, the Radicals decided the initiative had no chance of being accepted by Swiss voters, and that the government's long-term aim of joining the EU would be negatively influenced by the initiative.
According to the People's Party, by giving the green light to a series of bilateral treaties, which break down many trade barriers with the EU, the Swiss people swept aside all chances of joining the bloc. The right-wing party also criticised the government for having excessively delayed discussions of the pro-Europe initiative.
The centre-right Christian Democrats also rejected the initiative, saying that before considering full membership, Switzerland should first experiment with the bilateral agreements and analyse the effect they have on the country's economic and social welfare.
swissinfo and agencies
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