Rightwing says EU is key election issue

EU membership is once again launched as a key election issue Keystone

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party says the question of whether Switzerland should join the European Union is the most important issue in October's general election.

This content was published on September 8, 2003 minutes

But political analysts believe the People’s Party is simply exploiting rival parties’ inconsistency on EU membership to win seats.

“The general elections are European elections,” Ueli Maurer, president of the People’s Party, said on Monday.

Swiss voters overwhelmingly turned down an initiative in March 2001, which called for immediate talks on membership to the EU.

Maurer is demanding that the government review its position on membership and is challenging rival parties, including the centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats, to take a clear stance on the issue.

“The Swiss People’s Party knows that neither the Radicals nor the Christian Democrats have a majority that would vote in favour of EU membership,” says Andreas Ladner, a political analyst at the University of Bern.

“They also know that both parties have difficulties in coming up with a clear position on this issue.”

Failed government strategy

According to People’s Party, the government’s EU strategy – stating its long-term intention to join the bloc – has failed.

Maurer also claims that the centre-left Social Democrats, who want to join the EU as soon as possible, are unwilling to pay the price that membership would entail.

The People’s Party fears membership of the EU will seriously jeopardise neutrality, lead to job losses, undermine banking secrecy and destabilise the Swiss franc.

“With this election campaigning, the People’s Party is trying to win as many votes as possible,” said Ladner.

Maurer believes that the Swiss government’s fixation on EU membership has left a vacuum in its foreign policy.

Switzerland is therefore unable to play a significant role in the international arena, he says, unlike Norway which has acted as mediator in a number of conflict regions.

Neutrality in jeopardy

“The elections are crucial as they will set the course for the coming legislative period,” said Maurer.

The party is set to force the issue next Monday when the autumn parliamentary session gets underway.

It has given the government three weeks to reassess its position on EU membership and formally withdraw its application for membership.

In November 2000 the Swiss government said EU membership was a clear foreign policy goal.

It added that it wanted a decision by 2007 for when negotiations for membership should begin.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In a November 2000 foreign policy statement, Switzerland stated its intention to join the European Union.
The government said it wanted to decide on when to begin negotiations for membership by 2007.
Swiss voters overwhelmingly turned down an initiative called March 2001, which called for immediate talks on membership to the EU.

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