After years of tough negotiations with the European Union and months of domestic parliamentary debate, Switzerland formally ratified its bilateral accords with the EU on Friday.This content was published on October 8, 1999 - 13:25
After years of tough negotiations with the European Union and months of domestic parliamentary debate, Switzerland formally ratified its bilateral accords with the EU on Friday.
The accords will bring Switzerland the closest yet to the European body once the 15 member states also have completed ratification.
The Swiss-EU 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.
But despite passage in the Swiss parliament, the actual implementation of the accords may be delayed – or may never happen at all.
The small right-wing Swiss Democrats party has been fighting Switzerland’s move towards the EU consistently and repeated after Friday's ratification that it would collect the 50,000 signatures necessary to force a vote on the issue.
The party, supported by another small right-wing group in parliament, again warned that Switzerland "will be flooded" by too many foreigners willing to work for low wages should the agreements be implemented.
If the federal authorities declare the party’s signature collection as valid, Swiss voters will have to cast their ballot and decide just how far Switzerland should go down the road to European integration.
Political observers say that the Swiss Democrats may not succeed in forcing the vote unless they get significant support from other parties or political factions also opposed to the agreements.
The four-party government has come out publicly in favour of the bilateral accords, underlining their importance for Switzerland’s social and economic future as well as the country’s image in Europe.
A series of government-commissioned reports released earlier this year made clear that the bilateral accords will increase Switzerland’s spending by about SFr620 million ($413 million). But the cabinet argues that the economic benefits for the country will be much higher.
The ratification of the Swiss-EU ties is a bid by neutral Switzerland’s political class to get closer to the EU and its markets after Swiss voters in 1992 rejected membership of the European Economic Area, which encompasses a large body of EU principles and legislation.
From staff and wire reports.
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