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Swiss offer Ukraine bridge to Europe

Access to clean drinking water is one of the SDC's priorities in Ukraine

(Keystone)

Ukraine's move towards democracy and membership of the European Union has been the focus of a one-day meeting in Lugano.

At the Focus on Eastern Europe conference, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Switzerland wants to smooth the way for Ukraine's entry into Europe.

Calmy-Rey said in this way Switzerland could contribute to the long-term stabilisation of eastern Europe.

She added that Switzerland could in particular help Ukraine adapt its legislative and economic framework to European norms – something she said the former Soviet republic would have to do.

She said Switzerland's experience showed that this wasn't easy, which was why Switzerland wanted to make the relevant know-how available.

A first step in this direction has already been taken. At the end of June Calmy-Rey paid an official visit to Ukraine and, at the request of Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, made a Swiss consultant available to him.

"I am convinced our diplomats possess knowledge that will be of great value to Ukraine," Calmy-Rey said on Friday, adding that Switzerland had special expertise in the fields of decentralisation and fighting corruption.

The foreign minister said Switzerland and Ukraine should work together more "because neither of us is in the EU but we share European values".

She said both countries belonged to Europe based on their cultural identities and political circumstances.

Financial support

Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and Oscar Knapp, from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), emphasised how much Switzerland's work was appreciated by partner countries in the east.

Since the mid-1990s the SDC and Seco had supported projects for reform in Ukraine at a cost of SFr8-9 million ($6-6.8 million) a year.

Fust said the main areas of focus for the SDC were judicial reform, the sustained cultivation of natural resources such as drinking water, and the strengthening of public society.

Seco concentrated on promoting the private sector, primarily by supporting and financing small and medium-sized businesses, in addition to strengthening "corporate governance" in firms and the banking sector.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Ukraine is a former Soviet republic with a shared border with Russia.
The country has a population of 48 million.
78 per cent of the population are Ukrainian, while 17 per cent are Russian.

end of infobox

In brief

In 1995 Switzerland and Ukraine signed various economic treaties.

In 2004 Switzerland invested SFr488 million in eastern European countries.

Switzerland is the eighth largest investor in Ukraine.

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