The Swiss may have dragged their feet in engaging with the rest of the world but that is about to change, says the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss.This content was published on May 28, 2002 - 15:09
Speaking during the second day of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Lucerne, Deiss said Switzerland had for centuries shown a marked resistance to participate on the world's political stage, despite its strong economic presence.
He said the country was now set to play a more decisive role within international organisations, such as the United Nations and the European Union.
"Switzerland may be one of the last countries to have joined the UN, but it's the first to have asked its citizens to make that decision," said Deiss.
Switzerland is due to become a member of the UN on September 10, and has ratified a series of bilateral accords with the European Union - due to come into force on June1 - one of which will gradually lift restrictions on the movement of people between the EU and Switzerland.
The minister also defined the priorities of the Council of Europe as enforcing human rights, promoting democracy among its 44 member states and increasing the powers of the European Court of Human Rights.
Changes in immigration policy
Deiss's comments came after the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said on Monday that Switzerland would follow the EU's lead on asylum and immigration issues, despite having reservations about Europe's increasingly tougher policies.
She said immigration was positive and necessary for Europe, both on political and economic grounds. But she added that the growing number of asylum seekers, and the ever louder calls for tougher measures on immigration, made it imperative for Switzerland and its European neighbours to impose more regulations.
Metzler said that Switzerland was facing these challenges head on by engaging with Europe and by getting its own house in order. She invoked upcoming revision of Swiss civil rights code and the bilateral treaties with the EU, which are expected to pave the way for Switzerland's accession to the Schengen/Dublin agreements.
These, signed by a majority of EU member states, will abolish border controls and provide for common policies to fight crime. They will also prevent refugees from applying for asylum in more than one EU country.
Council of Europe
The three-day meeting in Lucerne brings together some 200 European parliamentarians, who are discussing topics as doping in sport, the humanitarian plight of the displaced Kurdish population and the state of the world population.
It's only the second time that the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has decamped from Strasbourg to Switzerland. Lausanne had the honour in 1987.
Around 200 of the assembly's 600 parliamentarians have made the trip for their spring session, which runs from May 27-29, following an invitation from the Swiss parliament.
swissinfo with agencies
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