The week in Switzerland

Switzerland's relationship with the European Union, a mega-merger and two scientific discoveries made the biggest headlines over the past week.

This content was published on July 15, 2000 - 10:01

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, announced after a visit to EU headquarters in Brussels that a new round of negotiations on further bilateral agreements with the EU would begin later this year.

Switzerland wants the discussion on the new accords to focus on such areas as the media, statistics and education. But the EU is more concerned about tax evasion and wants Switzerland do more to combat it. Deiss, however, reiterated banking secrecy was not up for negotiation.

The discussions, due to begin in the autumn, follow the Swiss people's approval of seven other accords with the EU in May. These still need to be ratified by the parliaments of the 15 EU member states if they are to come into effect on schedule next January.

Two scientific discoveries raised hopes that two medical problems might soon be resolved.

Scientists at the Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich announced progress in determining how Mad Cow Disease (or BSE) could be transferred from animals to humans through eating infected meat products.

They discovered that healthy prion proteins in humans are almost identical to those in cattle. These proteins are involved in the development of both BSE in cattle and its human variant, the deadly Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Later in the week in Geneva, a breakthrough was announced in establishing the cause of the most common form of diabetes. The discovery by scientists at Geneva university means a new treatment could be developed for diabetes type II, which accounts for 95 per cent of patients suffering from the disease.

On the business front, the biggest headlines of the week were reserved for Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, which announced the takeover of the US brokerage PaineWebber for nearly SFr18 billion ($10.6 million).

The move was billed as a bid by UBS to cement its position in the lucrative American market.

There was one issue that affected everyone in Switzerland this week: the weather. Unseasonally cold temperatures brought snow to resorts such as St Moritz and Davos in canton Graubünden.

In lower-lying areas, heavy rains wreaked havoc with the schedule at Switzerland's showpiece tennis tournament in Gstaad. Days of torrential rain left a number of world stars kicking their heels in locker rooms and hotels waiting for play to restart - or on some days to start at all.

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