Swiss say ‘no’ to EU

BBC News Online, Monday 5 March 2001, 02:08 GMT

Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for immediate membership talks with the European Union.

An unexpectedly high percentage of the electorate, nearly 77%, voted against the initiative, known as Yes to Europe.

The Swiss did not say no to Europe. They chose to answer the question later, said EU spokesman Luc Veron.

And this is obviously a choice the European Commission respects.

Government reaction

Switzerland's four-party coalition government had urged the 4.6 million electorate to oppose the plan, saying it was politically premature.

We are very pleased with the result, said Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger. It is a unified political response from the whole country.

The government says such talks on EU membership should not start before the 2003-2007 legislative period.

Not one of the country's 26 cantons or states backed the referendum.

In some German-speaking states, the no vote topped 85%, although opposition in the French-speaking region was not as strong.

Public opposition

The proposal was submitted by the Socialist Party and youth groups with the 100,000 signatures necessary to file for a popular referendum.

Although the seven-member Cabinet has repeatedly stated it wants Switzerland to join the EU, it argued that public opinion would not permit that until at least 2010.

Members of the New European Movement Switzerland, which launched the initiative, expressed disappointment at the result.

The damage is done, said Francois Cherix. I don't see how it [the government] is going to say to the EU that it wants to join.

Strong economy

With their economy prospering, many Swiss feel they have little to gain and much to lose from closer EU ties.

And there seems to be little appetite for dropping the Swiss franc in favour of the Euro.

With the European single currency continuing to languish against other key currencies, few Swiss see the benefits of giving up their traditionally strong franc.

Swiss inflation is lower than the European average and economic growth is higher.

Last year, there was a record budget surplus of 4.5bn Swiss francs ($2.6bn).

Inflation and unemployment are running at only about 2%, and foreign companies are flocking to set up headquarters in Switzerland.