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Swiss present at EU expansion talks

The conference is focusing on the EU's development and expansion

(Keystone)

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has told a gathering of European ministers that Switzerland could serve as a model for the creation of a federal Europe.

Deiss was addressing a meeting in France of his counterparts from the 15 European Union states, and countries applying to join the bloc.

The conference centred on the EU's future development and expansion.

While he emphasised the fact that Switzerland had no intention of trying to lecture its European neighbours on the issue of federalism, Deiss said on Thursday: "What we see on a daily basis in Switzerland is that creating a federation does not have to lead to the disappearance of the entities that are being brought together."

Deiss went on to say that the Swiss model did not necessarily have to be transposed identically onto the EU, but he said his intention was to share Switzerland's positive experiences as a confederation.

Although Switzerland is neither a member nor an applicant - a bid to join was made and immediately frozen in 1992 - Deiss is representing the country at the talks in the town of Sochaux.

He is accompanied by the Swiss ambassador to the EU in Brussels, Dante Martinelli, and the head of the Integration Office, Michael Ambühl.

For Switzerland, the meeting is a rare occasion to hold talks with representatives of all EU countries at once. The European Conference, as it is known, was created in 1997 as a forum at which member states and applicants could hold political talks.

Turkey is attending this year for the first time, even though the Conference was partly set up as a chance for Ankara to develop closer ties with the EU. Turkey refused to attend previous events, after being told by Brussels that it still had a long way to go before serious negotiations on membership could begin.

Switzerland has been attending the annual event since 1998.

In Sochaux, Deiss is expected to underline Switzerland's support for the EU's plans to expand to eastern Europe. He will also be pressing EU member states to ratify an accord between the EU and Switzerland on the free movement of labour.

Only two EU states have ratified the agreement, but it must be approved by the parliaments of all 15 before a series of seven bilateral free trade accord can come into force. The bilateral accords cover issues ranging from transport to agriculture.

The Swiss government will also be represented at the EU's next big meeting of heads of state in Nice on December 7. Switzerland will be represented at that conference by the president, Adolf Ogi.

swissinfo with agencies


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