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Swiss People's Party vote strengthens EU accords' prospects

The Swiss People's Party has come out in favour of the bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union. They are the subject of a nationwide referendum on May 21.

The Swiss People's Party has come out in favour of the bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union. They are the subject of a nationwide referendum on May 21. In a ballot at the People's party conference in Appenzell, 297 delegates voted in favour of the accords, 201 against.

All four parties in the cabinet have now backed the agreements, which will remove most trade barriers between Switzerland and the EU. The weekend vote also gave support to the People's Party government representative, Adolf Ogi, who is also this year's Swiss president.

While support for the crucial bilateral accords was not overwhelming at the party conference, at least there was no strong opposition from leading lights of the party, such as the populist, Christoph Blocher.

Blocher and party president Ueli Maurer are now taking the line that the bilaterals are the best way to keep Switzerland out of the EU, which is their main goal. They argue that once the bilaterals are in force, the government will not dare resurrect a Swiss application for EU membership.

Publicly opposing the bilaterals would also have posed a credibility problem for the People's Party, which initiated the whole idea of getting a bilateral treaty with the EU. Blocher, the private businessman, also stands to gain. His chemical concern, EMS, will no doubtedly benefit from trade liberalisation.

A small traders' federation represents the last remaining opposition to the accords. Made up of some farming organisations and artisans, it believes up to forty per cent of disgruntled voters may say no.

Additional opposition is expected from residents along the main north-south motorway from Basel to Chiasso, which the bilaterals will transform into a 40-tonne truck "juggernaut alley" until new trans-alpine rail tunnels are completed by the end of the decade.

by Peter Haller



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