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UN vote offers no clues to Europe

Switzerland is in no hurry to join the European Union Keystone Archive

The Swiss may have signed up to the United Nations, but analysts say there is little chance of the yes vote speeding up Swiss accession to the European Union.

This content was published on March 5, 2002 - 12:44

"The UN and EU cannot be compared because they are totally different," says political analyst, Curt Gasteyger.

He told swissinfo that UN membership would have little impact on Switzerland, whereas joining the EU would entail a major overhaul of the country's political institutions.

"The United Nations is a global institution and in many ways non-committal politically. Joining the EU would mean structural changes within Switzerland, which are much more stringent and more mandatory than is the case with membership of the UN," he added.

Gasteyger says the Swiss were well aware that a vote for the UN did not mean they were voicing support for "major structural or policy changes with regard to Switzerland".

"The EU is a totally different animal and is a collective enterprise of which one is a full part and from which one cannot withdraw easily...which means it will be a long time before Switzerland becomes a member, however desirable this may seem to young people today."

Hostility towards Brussels

The last time the politically sensitive issue of whether to apply for EU membership was put before the electorate, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

"The fact that the proposal was rejected by a massive majority," Gasteyger says, "means that certainly for the Swiss government there is no prospect for several years of putting the issue to another vote."

Indeed, in the run-up to the UN vote, the government was careful to make clear that the EU and the UN are entirely separate matters and that Sunday's vote would have no bearing on the issue of whether Switzerland should join the EU.

Instead, Switzerland is slowly forging closer ties with Brussels through a series of bilateral agreements, governing issues such as trade and the (eventual) free movement of people.

The first batch of seven accords - approved by the Swiss people in a referendum and ratified by all 15 EU national parliaments - is expected to come into force by June 1. And negotiations have been launched for a second set over issues ranging from the taxation of savings to customs fraud.

Uncertain future

Analysts say the Swiss may be reluctant to support further integration into the EU as long as the future direction and expansion plans of the body remain unclear.

"There is a general reluctance of becoming overly committed to an EU whose future we don't know," Gasteyger commented.

"The EU is in the process of rethinking its own internal structure and external mission, and as long as this uncertainty with regard to its constitutional nature exists, I do not think the Swiss people can be easily persuaded to join it," he added.

Gasteyger believes a nationwide vote on whether to join the EU is not likely for at least seven years, as the government waits to assess the impact of the EU's programme of expansion into central and eastern Europe.

"We may see a less stringent, less tightly organised EU and it may become more of a liberal trade area and less of a tightly constructed federalist state," he speculates.

"If this is so, the Swiss will probably take a different look at the European Union."

by Ramsey Zarifeh

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