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Swiss-EU accords will "normalise" relations

Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union will normalise relations with the 15-nation body and will not have a negative impact on further Swiss integration into Europe, according to a senior foreign ministry official.

This content was published on November 26, 1999 - 08:47

Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union will normalise relations with the 15-nation body and will not have a negative impact on the controversial issue of further Swiss integration into Europe, according to a senior foreign ministry official.

Michael Ambühl, the designated new head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry's Integration Office, praised the accords and said they would put Swiss-EU relations on a solid foundation.

"Politically, the accords will help normalise relations between Berne and Brussels, following Swiss voters' rejection of European Economic Area membership in 1992," Ambühl said in an interview with the Swiss news agency ats at the weekend.

The accords cover economic and technical cooperation, public procurement, mutual acceptance of diplomas and licences, agricultural trade, aviation issues, road and rail traffic and the free movement of people.

The agreements, which would move Switzerland the closest yet to the EU, were ratified by the Swiss parliament in October, and all EU parliaments must also give their approval before the agreements can take effect.

However, right-wing groups in Switzerland have said they will force a national vote on the issue, citing a loss of sovereignty for Switzerland.

Ambühl, a 48-year old career diplomat, tried to dispel those fears and said the broad package would benefit Switzerland's economy without compromising political independence.

He referred to recent studies which predict a growth of GDP of 2 percent and potentially 10,000 new jobs.

Pro-Europe parties and groups in Switzerland consider the bilaterals in many ways as a preparatory step toward full EU membership.

But for many others in the country - including the politically very powerful Swiss People's Party, which scored major gains in parliamentary elections in October - the accords are the "final step toward the EU," as populist party figurehead and parliamentarian Christoph Blocher recently put it.

The Swiss government has clearly stated its intention of moving even closer toward the EU, but has stayed away from giving a precise timetable for Swiss membership of the EU.

From staff and wire reports.

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