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Voter pragmatism wins the day for Europe

The economics and foreign ministers were considered the winners on Sunday's vote

(swissinfo.ch)

Swiss newspapers say voters showed their usual pragmatic attitude to European issues by approving a SFr1 billion ($800 million) payment to the Union's newest member states.

Editorialists said Sunday's ballots, in which voters also approved minimum child benefits, confirmed that the country was behind the government's bilateral approach.

The French-language business paper L'Agefi provided the context, saying the vote was the third in favour of the bilateral route in 18 months. This suggested that the electorate was happy with non-member Switzerland's arm's length approach to the European Union.

For Zurich's highly respected Neue Zürcher Zeitung the result showed that "the bilateral path was built on stable ground".

It added that the country had shown itself to be a reliable negotiating partner that was prepared to share the financial burden of the EU's eastern expansion.

The tabloid Blick, seemingly without irony, praised voters for their mature attitude, remarking that they had approved the bilateral path "even if it did cost something", and that self-imposed isolation was not an alternative for most citizens.

For Geneva's Le Temps, voters have given the thumbs up to the bilateral route, and are refusing to listen to the isolationists and nationalists on the right. The paper cautioned that the EU had to show some restraint before making more demands on the Swiss.

For Zurich's Tages Anzeiger, Swiss voters provided a shining example for the rest of sceptical Europe. "In no other country would a ballot on handing over funds to another nation been accepted," it wrote.

EU bilateral accords

Switzerland and the European Union have concluded two sets of bilateral accords following voters' rejection in 1992 of the European Economic Area ...

Pragmatism

Lucerne's Neue Luzerner Zeitung stressed the pragmatism of the Swiss, saying voters considered a "no" ballot to be too risky – ie: it would have antagonised Brussels. It said the Swiss simply saw the SFr1 billion in question as the price for gaining access to the growing markets of eastern Europe.

Bern's Bund saw things in a similar light - the SFr1 billion for the new EU members would reinforce Brussels's goodwill towards Switzerland. The French-language tabloid Le Matin said the vote had everything to do with pragmatism and little to do with solidarity.

Others warned that the tight result of the vote – 53 per cent of voters in favour – showed that the bilateral path was no highway, but a "rocky road", in the words of Basel's Basler Zeitung.

Bern's Berner Zeitung added that nobody should take for granted that future EU votes would go the same way.

In Ticino, one of 11 cantons where voters turned down the proposal, local paper La Regione said that the negative ballot was not a sign of conservatism or of a lack of solidarity.

It wrote that the "no" vote mirrored people's fears and insecurity as the wealth gap between southern Switzerland and the other cantons grew.

Child benefit

None of the editorialists was surprised by the positive outcome of the other national vote on Sunday to unify child benefit across the country.

The St Gallen Tagblatt said the positive vote was a "victory for families", while the Blick wrote that it was a "long overdue" decision.

The Basler Zeitung and the Neue Luzerner Zeitung were just two of the papers for which the result was a clear signal that more family-friendly policies were needed.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

Eastern Europe aid/SFr1 billion fund:
Yes: 53% - No: 47%
Unified child allowance:
Yes: 68% - No: 32%
Turnout: 45%

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In brief

This was the third nationwide ballot on EU integration since 2005. In that year voters approved a bilateral deal on security and asylum cooperation with Brussels and also came out in favour of extending the bilateral treaties to the ten new EU member states.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it has concluded 16 bilateral accords, including on trade, labour, taxation, asylum, transport and research.

Moves are underway to negotiate a free-trade agreement between Switzerland and the EU, as well as a deal on electricity.

Since the 1990s Switzerland has spent SFr3.5 billion on some 1,000 projects in eastern Europe. The SFr1 billion payment is to go to the ten new EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary.

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