Swiss to Join European Passport-free Zone | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.06.2005
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Europe

Swiss to Join European Passport-free Zone

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed the abolition of most of the landlocked nation's border controls with its European Union neighbors.

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The vote will mean a further loosening of borders

Some 55 percent of Swiss voters in a referendum approved government plans to join the 15-nation Schengen passport-free area, according to official results.

Schweizer sagen ja zu Schengen

Polling officials count the ballots of the nationwide poll on the Schengen/Dublin agreements with the EU and the law on same sex partnership in a school in Buehl, near Zurich, Switzerland, Sunday, June 5, 2005.

In all of Switzerland's 26 cantons -- or states -- the "yes" campaign managed to fend off stiff opposition to the Schengen accord with EU nations, as well as Iceland and Norway, according to official results.

A narrow win for the "yes" had been expected.

The last opinion poll, 12 days ago, showed 55 percent in favor, despite continued euroscepticism from Swiss voters. That figure caused last-minute jitters in the "yes" camp,

because it was down around seven points on polls a month earlier and showed the impact of a hardball campaign by opponents who said the Schengen accord would hit Swiss sovereignty.

Switzerland has stayed outside the EU despite being surrounded by its members. It manages its ties with the 25-nation bloc through a range of bilateral accords.

EU hails vote

European Union leaders Sunday welcomed the decision by Swiss voters to join the bloc's Schengen passport-free zone which abolishes frontiers for individuals travelling between states that have signed up to the agreement.

Luc Frieden, minister of justice of Luxembourg which currently holds the EU presidency, hailed "the clear result of the Swiss
people -- it is a good day for Europe and Switzerland."

"On the one hand free circulation will obviously be made easier, on the other cooperation in the security context can be reinforced," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. They said that the result would make examination of asylum requests easier and marked an important step forward in relations between Switzerland and the EU.

Signatories to Schengen include the 15 members of the EU before the May 2004 enlargement, with the exceptions of Britain and Ireland, plus non-EU members Norway and Iceland.

Fear of loss of sovereignty

The Schengen area, named after a small town in Luxembourg where the treaty was signed in 1985, now includes 13 EU states, as well as Iceland and Norway.

Bildgalerie 50 Jahre Römische Verträge Bild 12 b Schengener Abkommen

The entry to the town of Schengen in Luxembourg

The agreement abolishes systematic identity checks on travelers within the area and provides for a common visa in return for stronger controls on the area's outer fringe, as well as closer cooperation between police forces.

Schengen's Swiss opponents said that amounts to giving up a chunk of their sovereignty to Brussels. "We don't trust an organization that can't manage to resolve its enormous internal problems," said Hans Fehr, a parliamentarian for the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and head of an isolationist lobby group, the Association for a Neutral and Independent Switzerland (AUNS).

With the vote also covering membership of the EU's Dublin agreement on handling asylum seekers, lurid anti-Schengen campaign leaflets have raised fears of rising crime and job losses to illicit immigrant labor.

With the exception of the SVP, all the major political parties were supporting the step into Schengen, which was already approved earlier by parliament.

"The SVP is preying on people's fears," said Didier Berberat, a Socialist Party MP. While access to Schengen's computerized crime database is prized by most police unions in Switzerland, it is loathed by Swiss left-wingers who oppose the step into the area.

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