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Senate debates EU policy

Members of the senate after the debate on European policy

(Keystone)

The senate has been holding a major debate about Switzerland's policy towards the European Union. In a vote, it followed the house of representatives in rejecting a people's initiative calling for membership talks with the EU to be opened immediately.

Despite its rejection in parliament, the Yes to Europe initiative must still be put to a nationwide referendum by 2003.

The senate also rejected a government counter-proposal, which was narrowly approved by the house, to allow the cabinet to decide on the timing of eventual negotiations with Brussels.

The initiative was defeated by 33 votes to nine, and the counter-proposal by 29 votes to 16.

On Monday, the House will again debate the issue and decide whether to stand by the cabinet's counter-proposal. The cabinet has long made it clear that it favours joining the EU.

However it is firmly opposed to the Yes to Europe initiative because it wants a free hand in deciding when and how to put the membership question before the Swiss people.

Last month, Swiss voters overwhelmingly endorsed a series of bilateral accords with the EU which has given momentum to the campaign to press ahead with full membership.

swissinfo with agencies

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