Switzerland and the European Union will today Monday conclude bilateral agreements that should give Switzerland its closest ties yet to the EU. The signing of the documents will mark the end of the negotiations and the start of the ratification process.This content was published on June 19, 1999 - 12:20
Switzerland and the European Union will today Monday formally conclude bilateral agreements that should give Switzerland its closest ties yet to the EU. The signing of the documents will mark the end of the negotiations and the start of the ratification process.
It is likely to be a low-key ceremony when Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss and Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin sign the documents in Luxembourg, along with their EU counterparts.
They'll sign accords on economic and technological cooperation, public procurement, mutual acceptance of diplomas and licences, agricultural trade, aviation issues, road and rail traffic and the free movement of people.
The parliaments of all 15 EU member states will have to ratify the accord on the free movement of people since the issue will affect national legislation.
Political observers say the Swiss government has no intention of trumpeting the signing ceremony since there is still significant opposition within Switzerland to certain aspects of the agreements, which cap a negotiation process that began in 1994.
The Swiss parliament will have to ratify the accords with the EU and has scheduled a special parliamentary session in late August.
The package of agreements is subject to an optional referendum, which can be secured by any Swiss voter who gathers 50,000 signatures in the 100 days after parliamentary approval.
A controversial issue has been transalpine road traffic, in particular the number of 40-tonne EU trucks that will be allowed to cross the Swiss Alps. The Greens and environmental groups have expressed concern that Switzerland's commitment to ecologically sound transport policies would be undermined by the accords.
A heated debate has also focused on the free movement of people, which would enable the Swiss to live and work in EU member states but which would give equal access to EU workers in Switzerland. Left-leaning parties and trade organisations said that this would likely to put pressure on Swiss workers' salaries and could lead to a drop in living standards.
The Swiss government estimates the cost of the agreements to Switzerland at some SFr 600 million ($390 million) a year but says the economic advantages from increased trade will be many times higher.
The government says the accords will maintain the competitiveness of Switzerland and its economy in relation to the EU single market, adding pointedly: "The government also wants to prevent the political, institutional and cultural isolation of the country."
The signing of the bilateral accords is a bid by neutral Switzerland's political class to get closer to the EU and its markets after the people in 1992 rejected membership of the European Economic Area which encompasses a large body of EU principles and legislation.
Reuters news agency contributed to this report.
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