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Switzerland presses for further talks with EU

Couchepin (right) meets European Commission president, Romano Prodi


The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has called on the European Union to recognise Switzerland as an equal partner where asylum and security policy is concerned. He made the appeal at a meeting with five European commissioners in Brussels.

The trip comes only two days after the Swiss people adopted a series of seven bilateral accords with the EU. The accords virtually break down all trade barriers between Switzerland and the 15 member states of the EU in the fields of road and air transport, research, and public procurement contracts. Agriculture will be partly opened up, while the free movement of people is set to be introduced gradually over a period of seven years.

But in Brussels, Couchepin outlined the sectors in which Switzerland would like to see bilateral relations extended. Couchepin's spokesman said the economics minister had appealed for asylum and security policy to be covered in a further round of bilateral accords, while the EU had called on Berne to improve co-operation in fighting crime and tax fraud.

The spokesman said the meeting had been a chance to exchange information, and that no timetable had been laid down for further talks. Couchepin met the Commission's president, Romano Prodi, and four other commissioners.

Before the bilateral accords adopted by the Swiss on Sunday can come into force, the accord on the free movement of people still needs to be ratified by the parliaments of all 15 EU member states. Couchepin was also expected to use the meeting in Brussels to push for speedy ratification, so that the accords can come into force by January 1, 2001.

The reason is because Switzerland is anxious to start raising money from a special levy that will be introduced on heavy goods vehicles. The tax is important for Switzerland as it will be used to co-finance two new transalpine rail tunnels that will ultimately bear the brunt of freight traffic crossing the Alps.

swissinfo with agencies

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