Relations between Switzerland and the European Union top the political agenda in Switzerland in the next few days, as parliament debates a comprehensive package of bilateral agreements with the EU.
Relations between Switzerland and the European Union top the political agenda in Switzerland in the next few days, as parliament debates a comprehensive package of bilateral agreements that will probably move Switzerland much closer to the EU than ever before.
Both chambers of parliament on Monday began a four-day session to debate the sensitive political and economic accords, which were signed by both sides in June but which still have to be ratified by the Swiss parliament as well as those of all 15 EU member states.
The accords define economic and technological cooperation, public procurement, mutual acceptance of diplomas and licences, agricultural trade, aviation issues, road and rail traffic and the free movement of people.
Political observers say it’s likely that Swiss voters will face a referendum on the controversial accords. Such a vote can be secured by any Swiss voter or group which gathers 50,000 signatures in the 100 days after parliamentary approval of the accords.
Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger, speaking to the Neue Luzerner Zeitung newspaper, said the rejection of the accords by Swiss voters would lead to an “unprecedented domestic political battle” between supporters and opponents of European integration.
The question of how much Switzerland should integrate into Europe has been the subject of heated debate for years.
Those in favour of the accords – or even full EU membership – argue that Switzerland can no longer afford to stand outside Europe and must actively take part in the political bodies that shape Europe’s political and economic future.
Critics argue that opening up will lead to a loss of political sovereignty and a drop in living standards.
Some opposition groups, including the Greens and other environmentalists, have expressed concern that Switzerland’s commitment to ecologically sound transport policies will be undermined by the accords.
Greenpeace, the WWF and the environmentalist Alpine Initiative group said two weeks ago that they would force a national vote on the accords unless the government takes stricter measures to protect the environment.
Leuenberger tried to calm those fears, saying the government could boost the SFr2.8 billion ($1.86 billion) earmarked in order to move freight haulage from road to rail. The groups have demanded subsidies to the tune of SFr3.3 billion ($2.2 billion).
The idea of free movement of people has also caused some concern among the Swiss since many fear that Switzerland will be flooded by cheap labour from abroad and that Swiss workers might suffer from salary dumping or even lose their jobs.
Trade unions have threatened to launch a referendum if the government does not take measures to protect Swiss workers from salary dumping and other perceived threats posed by opening up Switzerland’s labour market.
From staff and wire reports.
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