Speaking in a Swissinfo online chat, the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, has predicted that 60 per cent of the Swiss will vote in favour of the bilateral accords with the European Union in Sunday's referendum.This content was published on May 15, 2000 - 09:50
Ogi fielded about two dozen questions in Switzerland's three main national languages and English, during the one hour question period in Berne.
He attempted to dispel fears that the seven accords pose a threat to Switzerland's neutrality or prosperity. The agreements deal with everything from land and air transport to the free movement of people.
In answer to one question, the president said the agreements were not designed to benefit only the wealthy regions of Switzerland, like cantons Zug or Zurich, or his hometown of Kandersteg, but also peripheral regions like canton Ticino.
During the chat, Ogi also said the bilateral accords were not a springboard into the European Union, even though membership remained a stated goal of the government.
Ogi deflected criticism that the dossier concerning the free movement of people would lead to wage dumping, and a wave of EU citizens moving to Switzerland to find jobs. He said there was a shortage of highly skilled labour in Switzerland, and the accord would simply make it easier for Swiss companies to fill these gaps.
The other main concern of voters is that the land transport accord will set off an avalanche of EU trucks crossing the Swiss Alps. Ogi admitted that there would most likely be an increase in the short-term, but said that freight would have to be eventually transferred from road to rail, as approved by Swiss voters in a nation-wide vote.
When asked who would benefit most from the bilateral accords - Switzerland or the EU - Ogi replied, "both, but we the Swiss always want to do better than the others. We like to have our cake and eat it, just like everyone else".
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