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Swiss pro-European group stands by EU membership referendum

Marc Suter, president of the movement, says the initiative calls for immediate opening of negotiations on Swiss EU membership


A Swiss movement championing quick membership of the European Union has decided to go ahead with plans to call a referendum in 2001 on opening accession talks.

The New European Movement in Switzerland said it would pursue its “Yes to Europe” initiative.

Marc Suter, the president of the movement, reportedly said that they had drafted a fast-track proposal on membership of the 15-member EU. He also told reporters that the group was inclined towards calling a referendum in June next year but a date had yet to be fixed.

In 1996, the group collected enough signatures to force a popular vote.

The initiative calls on the government to push forward negotiations with European leaders. The government’s counter-proposal, rejected by parliament in September, supported the idea of joining but left the schedule open.

The movement said their demand for a referendum had raised the profile of Swiss accession debate.

Many Swiss government officials and political observers fear that a pro-EU proposal would fail if put to a referendum now and could delay the timetable for joining for years.

In May this year, the Swiss voters approved a series of bilateral accords with the EU, covering a range of mainly economic issues, from transport to labour movement.

Opponents of full EU membership reportedly hoped the bilaterals would satisfy the movement, and that the “Yes to Europe” initiative would be withdrawn.

Government ministers, Pascal Couchepin and Joseph Deiss, “regretted” the group's decision. The foreign minister, Deiss, said that although he agreed with the movement’s objectives, he said their initiative put the government in a difficult position.

swissinfo with agencies

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