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US attacks bring Swiss Schengen membership closer

The Schengen accord scraps internal borders and strengthens external frontiers

(Keystone Archive)

The international community's drive to stamp out global terrorism in the wake of last week's atrocities in the United States is likely to speed up negotiations on Switzerland joining the Schengen and Dublin agreements.

The question of closer Swiss collaboration with the European Union on security issues is expected to be raised at a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. The ministers are discussing the implementation of tough new pan-European anti-terrorism measures.

"Involving third states in the battle against international terrorism will certainly be on the agenda," says Monique Jametti, deputy director of the Federal Office of Justice.

"There is a growing feeling in EU member states that there is a need for closer cooperation with Switzerland," she told swissinfo.

Confirmation of that came on Wednesday, when the Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who currently chairs the EU Council of Ministers, told the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, that negotiations on Swiss membership of Schengen and Dublin should be launched "as quickly as possible".

Territory without borders

The Schengen accord scraps internal borders while increasing police and judicial cooperation and strengthening external frontiers. The Dublin Convention deals with immigration and asylum procedures.

Schengen is the town in Luxembourg where the first agreements on a territory without borders were signed, following an accord among France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Switzerland says it wants to join because it does not want to be regarded as the focal point in Europe for international terrorism and cross-border crime, nor the entry point for illegal immigrants. It argues that the only way to increase cooperation beyond its current level is to enter the Schengen system.

Verhofstadt's comments, then, were music to the Swiss government's ears, although there is no clear timeframe for the start of negotiations.

Jamatti, whose international affairs division at the Federal Justice Office deals with Swiss attempts to meet the Schengen requirement, says talks will begin "once there are mandates for negotiations in all fields". This, she points out, is not yet the case.

Swiss cooperation

Switzerland has already done a great deal to harmonise its security policies with those of the Schengen area, by increasing police cooperation, combating organised crime and money laundering, and in the field of asylum law. However, a number of outstanding issues, such as data protection legislation, remain to be cleared up.

EU experts are currently looking at how to overcome technical problems linked to an eventual Swiss membership of Schengen.

"I'm more concerned about the practical details than the judicial implications. There needs to be a greater understanding about how the system works," Jametti explained.

Moves towards Switzerland signing up to Schengen and Dublin are likely to be accompanied by harmonisation in other areas. On Wednesday, Verhofstadt told Leuenberger that all EU member states would have ratified the bilateral accords with Switzerland by November.

This would mean the seven agreements would come into force next year. Three countries - France, Ireland and Belgium - have yet to ratify the bilaterals with Switzerland.

by Roy Probert


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