Cantons look at pros of EU membership

The cantons also want a say in relations with the EU

Switzerland's 26 cantons would benefit from Swiss membership of the European Union, according to an expert study published on Tuesday.

This content was published on May 16, 2006

The report says that entry into the EU would have advantages over the bilateral treaties that Bern has signed with Brussels.

Membership would mean the cantons playing a direct role in regional bodies of the EU, whereas, at the moment, the Swiss government alone negotiates the bilateral way.

The Europe working group of the Conference of Cantonal Governments (CCG) - which acts as a bridge between the government and cantons on issues of national and foreign policy - were behind the findings.

The 300-page report analysed the pros and cons of EU membership and Switzerland's current approach of bilateral accords with Brussels.

Direct participation

EU membership would mean Switzerland would have to implement EU law but cantonal representation in regional EU bodies would result in direct participation in working out European legislation, the study said.

With rare exceptions, the current bilateral way did not allow Switzerland to play a full role in decisions on EU regulations.

According to the CCG, the findings should serve as a basis for future debate on Europe and discussion on internal reforms.

It complements a report that was published on the issue five years ago.

The cantonal government of Zurich reported at the end of March that EU membership would have a positive impact on health, education, research and internal security.

Bilateral benefit

But it noted the economy would clearly benefit from maintaining the current bilateral approach between Bern and Brussels.

Zurich is the main financial centre of Switzerland and is home to about a sixth of the population.

For its part, the federal government is due to publish a policy paper on the future of its relationship with Europe next month.

Switzerland has so far concluded two sets of bilateral agreements with the EU, in particular on trade, labour, transport, agriculture, tax, customs and asylum.

The bilateral approach was taken after the Swiss electorate turned down membership of the European Economic Area in December, 1992.

A request for membership talks, handed in to Brussels after the rejection of the EEA, has effectively been frozen amid strong opposition to closer ties with Brussels, particularly from the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

Over the past decade, Swiss voters have rejected a plan to launch membership talks with the EU and also thrown out calls for a nationwide vote on whether the government was allowed to open such talks.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland has concluded 16 bilateral treaties with the EU following voters' rejection in 1992 of membership in the European Economic Area Treaty.

The government asked for membership talks in 1992, but the request has been put on hold since.

Swiss voters endorsed the policy of bilateral accords in several nationwide ballots since 2000.

The government is due to publish its white paper on European policy by July.

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