The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, has made a strong appeal to the people to ratify the bilateral accords with the European Union when they come to the vote in May. "We have to win this referendum", he said at a news conference in Berne.This content was published on February 16, 2000 - 19:26
The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, has made a strong appeal to the people to ratify the bilateral accords with the European Union when they come to the vote in May. "We have to win this referendum", he said at a news conference in Berne.
Ogi effectively launched the public campaign over the seven accords after it was confirmed the Swiss would definitely have to vote on the issue in a referendum on May 21.
Two small right-wing parties, the Swiss Democrats and the Lega die Ticinesi, together with other groups collected enough signatures to force the vote. The federal chancellery has confirmed there were 66,000 "valid" signatures on the petition - 16,000 more than are needed to trigger a referendum.
Ogi said the accords were of vital importance to Switzerland. "They are the right accords, at the right time" he said.
He pledged that the government would play an active part in the public debate on the issue. And he expressed confidence the people would see the need to support the agreements because they would strengthen Switzerland economically.
Ogi repeated that the bilateral accords had nothing to do with a possible entry into the European Union. The government has said its eventual aim is to join the EU, but it is limiting its current ambitions to getting the bilateral accords approved by the people.
Just eight years ago, the Swiss people rejected membership of the European Economic Area. At the time, the government was criticised for a lacklustre campaign in favour of membership - something which was seized upon by the right-wing populist, Christoph Blocher.
There have been fears in Switzerland that current moves by EU member governments to isolate Austria, because of the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in its coalition government, could strengthen opponents of Switzerland's bilteral accords with the EU.
The seven accords, which range from transport to free movement of labour, have been ratified by the Swiss parliament. However they still need to be approved by the European Parliament and the individual parliaments of the 15 EU member states.
From staff and wire reports
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