Switzerland has started negotiations with the European Union on joining two treaties - Schengen and Dublin - governing asylum and crime.This content was published on July 12, 2002 - 12:12
A statement by the Swiss justice ministry, released on Thursday, said Switzerland had emphasised its desire to join the agreements as part of a new round of bilateral treaties.
"The Swiss delegation reiterated... that an association would be in the interests of both parties," the statement said.
Schengen would lead to the scrapping of border controls between Switzerland and the EU and provide common policies for fighting crime, as well as a joint system of investigation and information.
The agreement also contains measures for an electronic tracing system for wanted persons, vehicles and weapons.
Swiss opponents to closer ties with the EU say that by becoming an associate member to the agreements, Switzerland will be forced to accept any future additions to them without playing a part in the consultation process.
Constructive first meeting
The first meeting between Swiss and EU officials to discuss Schengen and Dublin took place on Thursday.
According to thehead of the Swiss delegation, Monique Jametti Greiner, the first round of bilateral discussions took place "in a very open and constructive climate".
Speaking after an initial meeting with Percy Westerlund - head of the office of external relations at the European Commission and leader of the EU delegation - Jametti Greiner said that both treaties would be considered together.
"We are well aware that the Schengen and Dublin accords form a whole, and it is not going to be possible to pick and choose," she told swissinfo.
Jametti Greiner refused to speculate on how long the negotiations with the EU might take, but a second round of talks is scheduled for the end of September.
Transfer of power to Brussels?
Hans Fehr, director of the Campaign for a Neutral and Independent Switzerland and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, says acceptance of both treaties would constitute a transfer of power to Brussels.
"The treaties are a step on the road to membership of the EU," he warned. "The government knows that and says we have to break down barriers for entry into the EU - and that is exactly what we do not want. Schengen and Dublin would represent a loss of our sovereignty."
But Jametti Greiner dismisses this argument as being wide of the mark. "Norway and Iceland have already signed up to Schengen and Dublin," she said. "Neither of them is a member of the EU, but they managed to negotiate a say in any future preparation of EU legislation."
The Schengen agreement, which came into force in 1991, has been signed by all EU member states, with the exception of Britain and Ireland.
Jametti Greiner argues that Bern must sign up to Schengen because an earlier treaty governing the free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland requires closer judicial and police cooperation.
That agreement, along with six others governing mainly trade issues, came into force on June 1.
"You can't have freedom without having security, and that is exactly what the Schengen agreement provides," Jametti Greiner said.
But Fehr fears that the removal of border controls will inevitably lead to security problems.
Under the agreement, Switzerland would have to abolish fixed border controls with its EU neighbours, but still maintain a workable system of customs checks.
The Dublin agreement, which came into force in 1997, lays down the EU's policy on asylum.
It says asylum seekers can only lodge an application with one member country - preventing them from making multiple requests. It is also inextricably linked to the Schengen agreement because a common visa policy was essential after border controls were fully abolished.
"We know we have to negotiate the two treaties as a package," said Jametti Greiner. "It is inconceivable to try to talk about Schengen without Dublin, and vice-versa."
The Swiss People's Party is also afraid that the EU will require Switzerland to make a number of concessions during negotiations on the second round of bilateral agreements.
"Switzerland will be under pressure to change its banking [secrecy] laws," said Fehr. "The EU will only allow Switzerland to get its way on Schengen if we are able to deliver something in return.
"What it really wants is an end to banking secrecy and this would be a blow to the country as a financial centre and to its economic structure."
But Jametti Greiner said after the first round of talks in Brussels that Schengen was compatible with Swiss banking secrecy legislation.
"It is characteristic of the Swiss to be suspicious," she said.
The Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, has repeatedly insisted that banking secrecy is non-negotiable. However, the Swiss seem to share Fehr's doubts over the second set of bilateral agreements.
A recent survey carried out by the Bern-based research institute, GfS, reveals that 46 per cent of those polled were sceptical towards the new bilaterals, with only 41 per cent supporting them.
Research talks open
On Wednesday, the Swiss government's head of science, Charles Kleiber met members of the European Commission to begin talks on Swiss participation in the next EU scientific research programme.
Kleiber also opened discussions on another of the second round of bilateral agreements - training and youth policy.
Switzerland is already part of the current research programme covered by the bilateral agreements that came into force on June 1. But it finishes at the end of the year and the EU is now deciding which scientific areas will be given priority in the new programme starting next year.
Bern has already given its seal of approval to Swiss participation and is now waiting for the EU's agreement.
It would allow Swiss researchers to launch and lead projects anywhere within the EU and see Brussels contributing to approved research projects in Switzerland.
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