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Summit talks relaunch bilateral negotiations

Prodi and Couchepin (right) are hoping to wrap up the bilaterals by the end of the year Keystone Archive

Switzerland and the European Union are pushing ahead with the conclusion of a second set of bilateral treaties.

This content was published on October 24, 2003 - 19:55

Both sides are hoping to end discussions this year, but it is likely to be an uphill struggle given the political and economic interests at stake.

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, and the European Commission president, Romano Prodi, met at the Jean Monnet Foundation in Lausanne, canton Vaud.

Speaking in Lausanne, the EU commission president, Romano Prodi, said progress had been made in resolving controversial issues, including security cooperation and customs fraud.

Prodi also announced the EU was planning to open a permanent office in the capital, Bern.

During the meeting, Prodi received the Jean Monnet gold medal from Couchepin for his contribution to the European Union.

Couchepin is likely to have used the occasion to explore how much room there is for manoeuvre on key sticking points in the ten accords.

Switzerland is insisting that the accords be treated as one package rather than separately.

The accords cover pensions, the environment, agriculture and education, but difficulties have arisen over an article on combating tax fraud.

Tax fraud

The issue has become a major stumbling block to Switzerland joining the Schengen and Dublin agreements on cross-border crime and asylum.

Bern fears the article - contained in the Schengen agreement - could be extended to cover tax evasion, which would oblige Switzerland to lift banking secrecy if it received a request for legal assistance from an EU country.

Bern has been negotiating with the EU to become an associate member to both treaties since July 2002, when a first set of bilateral accords came into effect.

In June, Switzerland reached a compromise deal with Brussels on the taxation of EU citizens’ savings accounts - after 14 years of negotiations.

Under the agreement, Bern will levy a withholding tax and pass the funds on to Brussels, avoiding the lifting of banking secrecy.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, and European Commission president, Romano Prodi, met in Lausanne on Friday.

The two discussed the second round of bilateral agreements with the EU.

The first round of bilateral agreements came into force on June 1, 2002.

Prodi received an award from the Jean Monnet Foundation.

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