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Swiss find Italian support for EU accords

Micheline Calmy-Rey and Franco Frattini after talks in Rome Keystone

Italy says it welcomes Swiss efforts to wrap up a second set of bilateral accords with the European Union by the end of the year.

This content was published on September 8, 2003 - 22:54

The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, that the accords were likely to be discussed at an upcoming EU ministerial conference.

Frattini said the Italian government – which currently holds the rotating EU presidency – was in favour of speeding up negotiations with Switzerland.

Calmy-Rey was in Rome on the last leg of a five-day European tour, which included stops in Serbia and Montenegro as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Optimistic outlook

Speaking before her return home from the Italian capital, the Swiss foreign minister said she believed it was “very realistic” that negotiations on the second set of bilaterals could be concluded by December.

One of the main obstacles to the signing of the accords centres around an article on combating tax fraud, which Switzerland fears could threaten its tradition of banking secrecy.

Italy and Switzerland have clashed on a number of occasions over tax fraud, and the issue has also been a major stumbling block to Switzerland joining the Schengen and Dublin agreements on crime and asylum.

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.

“I think we have reasons to be fairly optimistic about the conclusion of the agreement, perhaps not by the end of the year but maybe the beginning of next year,” René Schwok, of the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of European Studies, told swissinfo.

Hopes for progress

Calmy-Rey’s talks in Rome come two months after the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, gained assurances from the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that progress would be made.

Monday’s show of support from the Italian government comes just four days after the Austrian foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told Calmy-Rey that Vienna welcomed Swiss efforts to conclude the EU negotiations by the beginning of 2004.

Calmy-Rey is also due to travel to Berlin and London next month as part of the Swiss government’s ongoing efforts to move the negotiations along.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Italian foreign minister has told his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, that Italy is behind Switzerland’s efforts to conclude a second set of bilateral accords with the EU by the end of the year.

Franco Frattini said Italy – which currently holds the European presidency – is in favour of speeding up negotiations on the accords.

After meeting with Frattini, Calmy-Rey said she believed it was very realistic that negotiations on the bilaterals could be finalised in December.

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