Swiss Voters Decide to Send Millions in Aid to the EU | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.11.2006
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Europe

Swiss Voters Decide to Send Millions in Aid to the EU

In Switzerland, voters narrowly approved a government proposal to provide one billion Swiss francs (630 million euros, $820 million) to the 10 new members of the European Union, in one of the closest polls in years.

Paying without end? read the poster of those opposing more aid to the EU

"Paying without end?" read the poster of those opposing more aid to the EU

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but, in order to keep its trade relations with Europe alive, it has negotiated a series of bilateral deals with Brussels. In return, the EU asked for support for its cohesion fund.

But many Swiss voters were unhappy with the idea, and in the end the proposal just scraped through, with 53 percent of those voting saying yes. Most of those supporting the proposal were in urban areas, which profit more from ties to the EU, while voters in rural largely rejected sending money to eastern Europe.

"I welcome this decision by the Swiss people," said EU Commission President Jose Barroso, adding that the decision was in Switzerland's interest. "Switzerland already profits from a privileged access to the Union's internal market and each enlargement of the European Union profits the Swiss."

Complicated relationship


Bern Altstadt mit Fluss

Voters in urban areas are more aware of the benefits that come from the EU

Indeed, Switzerland will get something for its generosity -- or better put, it won't lose something. A no vote would have risked Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the EU -- painstakingly negotiated over 10 years. Almost 70 percent of Swiss exports are sold in the European Union -- Swiss business and manufacturing couldn't survive without access to Europe's markets.


But Brussels has always made it clear Switzerland can't cherry-pick just the advantages of the EU -- in the last two years the Swiss have, somewhat reluctantly, accepted free movement of people and open borders too.

The relationship with Brussels will continue to be complicated, said to Lars Knuchel, spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry.

"Switzerland has again by a vote of its people chosen the bilateral path," Knuchel said. It is an ongoing process. You always have to negotiate, renegotiate, check with your partner (to see) what you can achieve, what are the limits. It is a bumpy road, and we don't want that road even bumpier, so that's why the government of Switzerland and the parliament of Switzerland have actually decided to say yes to this billion in order to invest into our good political and economic relations with the European Union."

On Sunday, voters backed that decision even though it will probably mean even more cash injections for the EU in the future.



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