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UN opponents fear for Swiss neutrality

Switzerland's membership in the United Nations will be put to a nationwide vote on March 3

Opponents of Swiss membership in the United Nations say joining the world body would jeopardise the country's traditional neutrality.

The issue will come to a nationwide vote on March 3.

A committee led by the right-wing politician, Christoph Blocher, said Switzerland would simply have to take orders if it became a full member of the UN. Therefore, the opponents called on voters to reject the proposal at the ballot box.

At a news conference in Bern on Monday, Blocher said that as a UN member Switzerland could be forced to take part in international sanctions, thus infringing on its neutral status.

Other opponents said that by staying out of the UN, Switzerland could better offer its services and provide humanitarian aid through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Direct democracy, increasing costs

Blocher argued that UN membership would undermine direct democracy because diplomats and officials at the UN would set international law above Swiss law.

He also criticised the idea that the country would have to incur increasing costs if it decided to join the world body. Switzerland would have to spend an additional SFr75 million ($45 million) annually, he added.

“UN membership would cause considerable damage”, Blocher concluded.

The world body has not changed in the past two decades, according to conservative politicians and members of the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland.

They pointed out that the UN was not impartial, and that it was an anti-democratic institution incapable of resolving major conflicts. It is an instrument of the big powers and small countries, including Switzerland, will not have a say, they added.

Low-cost campaign

UN opponents said they only had limited finances of about SFr2 million at their disposal, compared with the funds the Swiss Business Federation and the government had been putting into the campaign.

They criticised the government use of taxpayers’ money and accused the authorities of unfair involvement in the campaign.

The government, which supports full UN membership, will launch its campaign on Tuesday. Parliament and the main business federation have also come out in favour of Switzerland joining the world body.

“No” to UN in 1986

It is the second time in 16 years that the issue of UN membership will be put to a nationwide vote. In 1986 the Swiss electorate overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Latest opinion polls predict a close race in March between supporters and opponents of UN membership. Analysts expect a rift between voters in rural and urban areas.

Although it is not a full member of the UN and only has observer status at the UN General Assembly, Switzerland has been taking part in numerous UN organisations and contributes about SFr500 million every year.

It also hosts the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva.

by Urs Geiser

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR