The government has launched a campaign to win support for Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union, ahead of a referendum in May. Four cabinet ministers kicked off the campaign by extolling the benefits of closer integration with Europe.
The government has launched a campaign to win support for Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union, ahead of a referendum in May. In an unprecedented move, four cabinet ministers kicked off the campaign by extolling the benefits of closer integration with Europe.
The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, made it clear that every effort would be made to secure a "yes" vote on May 21. He said rejecting the accords was not an option for Switzerland.
At issue are seven agreements ranging from transport to the free movement of people. The deals are part of package, which the Swiss must either accept or reject in its entirety.
Two small, far-right parties, who collected more than the required minimum of 50,000 signatures, forced the referendum.
They have warned of an influx of foreign workers undercutting wage levels and have portrayed EU moves to isolate Austria, for including the far-right Freedom Party in its government, as excessive meddling. They also say that Swiss roads will be clogged with oversized trucks, increasing noise and pollution levels.
These arguments were rebuffed by three of Deiss' cabinet colleagues.
The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, stressed that Switzerland's
sovereignty was not at stake and that the accords would bring gains for all.
Government analysts predict that the accords will boost Switzerland's GDP by as much as two per cent a year (or SFr8 billion until 2010). By contrast, the cost is estimated at around SFr800 million a year.
The transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said the accords' control of heavy goods vehicles across Switzerland was essential to protect the country's environment. He said that without it, the countryside would suffer.
The interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, said the accords would enable Swiss citizens to work anywhere in the EU without fearing loss of pension or other rights.
Underlining its hard-sell approach, the government is also taking its campaign onto the Internet. The ministries of economics and foreign affairs have posted their arguments on two websites, and invited Swiss voters to respond with their concerns.
swissinfo and agencies
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