Parliament throws weight behind UN membership

Parliament has approved Swiss membership to the UN

Parliament has approved Swiss membership of the United Nations despite opposition from conservative politicians, who say the move would compromise Switzerland's traditional neutrality. A nationwide vote is scheduled for next year.

This content was published on September 19, 2001 minutes

The House of Representatives on Wednesday followed the Senate and voted in favour of Switzerland joining the world body. The proposal passed with 153 votes against 42 votes.

During a two-day debate, supporters of UN membership pointed out that Swiss foreign policy and the aims of the UN were identical. They said the UN was the only global organisation fighting for a better and more just world.

Several speakers stressed that the world body was an important stage for Switzerland to promote its values and to increase international cooperation, including efforts to combat terrorism in the wake of last week's attacks in the United States. Supporters also underlined the role of Geneva as the UN's headquarters in Europe.

Key issue neutrality

Opponents of UN membership, mainly from the right-wing Swiss People's Party, warned Swiss neutrality and the country's independence were at risk. They criticised the UN as an instrument of the superpowers and an ineffective and costly organisation.

Some opponents said Switzerland should not give up its unique position outside the UN. Christoph Blocher, a key figure in the rightwing Swiss People's Party, said UN membership was a cheap excuse to hand over responsibility to an international institution.

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, at the end of the two-day debate in the House, reassured parliamentarians that Switzerland's neutrality and independence would in no way be compromised if it decided to join the UN.

Deiss said Switzerland could not shut itself out of the international community and he added that Switzerland had a role to play in the UN. He accused several opponents of UN membership of being selfish and arrogant.

He said last week's terrorist attacks in the United States had shown the urgent need for increased international cooperation. "Switzerland needs the world, and the world needs Switzerland," Deiss said.

Nationwide vote next year¶

The vote in the House of Representatives has paved the way for a nationwide ballot on the issue scheduled for the first half of next year. The Senate approved the proposal - a people's initiative, supported by most political parties- during the summer session.

The Swiss electorate rejected a similar proposal for UN membership with a three to one majority at the ballot box in 1986.

Switzerland is the only country, besides the Vatican, not to be a full member of the UN. It has only observer status at the UN General Assembly in New York.

However, it contributes around SFr500 million ($311 million) annually towards the world body and it has joined most other UN institutions.

The Swiss city of Geneva is the seat of the UN headquarters in Europe and it hosts numerous UN bodies, including the UN refugee agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

by Urs Geiser

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