Schmid reinforces ties with London
Swiss President Samuel Schmid has met the British prime minister Tony Blair, just days before London takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Schmid affirmed Switzerland’s desire to remain a major partner of the Union, a few months ahead of an important Swiss vote on an EU labour accord.
"Last Sunday’s vote in favour of the Schengen/Dublin accords showed we are a serious partner," said Schmid in London.
A respectable majority of Swiss voters agreed that Bern should sign up to these treaties governing cooperation on crime-fighting and asylum.
Blair congratulated the Swiss for accepting the accords, part of a second package of agreements signed between Bern and Brussels last year.
Britain will be holding the EU presidency when the Swiss face another crunch vote in September, on extending an accord on the free movement of labour to the EU’s ten newest members.
Schmid said the British prime minister had assured him that the EU presidency would not attempt to influence the September vote.
"This is something for the Swiss to deal with alone," said the Swiss president.
If the Swiss were to reject the extension, there is a strong possibility that Brussels would prevent the country from joining Schengen/Dublin.
Schmid said in London that there was no legal link between Schengen/Dublin and the labour accord, but he admitted that there was a political connection.
EU foreign-affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said on Monday that it would not be possible for Switzerland to join the EU's passport-free zone if it refused to extend the labour accord to all EU citizens.
Brussels could also freeze at least seven other accords, which are already in force.
Schmid’s main purpose in travelling to Britain was ostensibly to reinforce bilateral ties with one of Europe’s leading nations.
"We can discuss political problems with Britain," said Schmid. "Both countries have similar policies."
The Blair government is also hesitant about its relationship with the EU. The prime minister postponed a referendum on a new European constitution this week after French and Dutch voters rejected it a few days earlier.
On Thursday morning, the Swiss president met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
No details of their 20-minute discussion were released, but Schmid’s spokesman Martin Bühler said that the British monarch was apparently well-informed about Switzerland.
swissinfo with agencies
On June 5, Swiss voters approved joining the Schengen/Dublin accords on security and asylum with the European Union.
In September, voters will be asked to extend an accord on the free movement of labour to the EU’s newest member states.
On July 1, Britain takes over the rotating presidency of the EU for six months.
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