Swiss must find new way for relations with EU: minister

23rd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey on Monday said Switzerland's relations with the EU were "hardly satisfying" and called for new ways of cementing the relationship with its neighbours.

Switzerland, one of only a handful of smaller west European countries that have voluntarily stayed outside the European Union, has adopted a piecemeal approach of bilateral economic and technical ties with the now 27 nation bloc.

Calmy-Rey told Switzerland's ambassadors at their annual meeting in the central town of Interlaken that accords struck over the past decade were a "partial success", having fostered the country's properity and security.

However, she added: "De facto, Switzerland's place in Europe is hardly satisfying from a functional point of view."

Fiercely independent Swiss voters have repeatedly rejected closer political ties and membership of the European Union.

The foreign minister acknowledged that Switzerland and the EU were increasingly at odds over demands from Brussels that the Swiss take on some of the commitments of member states when they seek more accords.

Having remained outside the EU, Switzerland faces "a greater risk of discrimination" from its neighbours on economic and political matters, sometimes eroding its "real sovereignty", said Calmy-Rey.

She added that it was not a matter of accession to the EU, but for the government to "find a way in which it could adapt its relations with the EU to new needs".

"The chosen way will also have to guarantee that Switzerland obtains the right to take part in the evolution of European law," she added, without adding further details.

Last week the Swiss government maintained the bilateral approach to the EU in a policy statement, without ruling out changes in the future.

But the pro-EU lobby in Switzerland has increasingly questioned the country's ability to keep a political distance from its European neighbours.

The bilateral agreements with the EU cover areas such as free movement of labour, education, border policing and transport, giving the Swiss similar advantages to member states in those areas.

Iceland last month started formal talks with the European Union over accession.

© 2010 AFP

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