Senators say "yes" to Bilaterals II
The Swiss Senate has approved by a clear majority a second series of bilateral treaties with the European Union.
Security fears over the controversial Schengen/Dublin accord on cross-border security and asylum fell on deaf ears. The treaties will now be debated in the House of Representatives.
Thirty-eight members of the Senate – the chamber that represents Switzerland’s cantons – voted in favour of the accords, with three against and three abstentions.
During debate in Bern on Thursday, the Senate considered it unnecessary to hold an obligatory nationwide vote on the Schengen/Dublin accord.
The rightwing Swiss People's Party, which is strongly opposed to Schengen/Dublin, has repeatedly threatened to challenge the accord by forcing a nationwide ballot.
Switzerland signed the Bilateral II treaties in Luxembourg in October.
Sceptics from the ranks of the People’s Party questioned whether the country’s security would be strengthened under Schengen/Dublin. They also complained that too many questions had been left unanswered.
Before approving the most contested of the accords, the Senate took the precaution of making a number of conditions.
It accepted two amendments: the first would ensure that the cantons can have their say on implementing Schengen/Dublin; the second would allow them to maintain border guards once the accords are in force.
The Swiss justice minister, Christoph Blocher, said at the end of the debate that he was bound by duty to defend the accord.
Blocher, who is a member of the People’s Party, added that he would present both the pros and cons of the issue.
Savings income tax
In a related development, members of the Senate approved the gradual introduction of a tax on EU residents’ savings income in Swiss banks and an accord on the fight against fraud.
In a deal worked out after painstaking negotiations with Brussels, Switzerland will progressively introduce a withholding tax of 35 per cent on savings income of EU residents.
Radical Party parliamentarian Peter Briner said the tax accord was a good compromise.
According to Briner, Switzerland would be able to help the EU in its fight against tax evasion, which is not a criminal offence in Switzerland, but would retain banking secrecy.
Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said the “heart” of banking secrecy would not be affected by the introduction of the tax, and Switzerland’s reputation as a finance centre would be strengthened for a long time to come.
Senator Dick Marty of the centre-right Radical Party argued that the accord on the fight against fraud would help Switzerland’s image abroad and correct the impression that the country was a hub for economic crime.
swissinfo with agencies
The second round of bilateral accords with the EU include Schengen/Dublin, taxation of savings, and the fight against fraud.
The Senate approved the whole package on Thursday and has passed it on to the House of Representatives.
It did not consider an obligatory referendum necessary on Schengen/Dublin – the most controversial of the accords.
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