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Swiss Mainly Upbeat On EU Enlargement

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

11 October 2002

According to a report from the Swissinfo news service this week, despite its current dispute with the European Union, Switzerland has welcomed the forthcoming EU enlargement, albeit cautiously.

Responding to the release of the long-awaited EU report on the current batch of pre-accession countries, the Swiss Economics Ministry commented that: 'The well-established poitical and economic conditions set between Switzerland and the EU can now be expanded to new markets.'

And indeed, Swiss businesses stand to benefit from the addition of some 75 million people to the European Union's existing population of 400 million, as the majority of the bilateral agreements held between the European bloc and Switzerland - particularly those regarding trade - will automatically apply to the new member states.

However, some reservations have been expressed. Speaking to Swissinfo, Marcel Ledergerber, head of Swiss Export warned that although there will potentially be millions of new customers for Swiss businesses following enlargement, they will need to be quick off the mark, as many German firms have long been active in Eastern Europe.

There are also fears that the expansion may deepen Switzerland's political isolation, which can no longer automatically be justified by the country's superior economic position.

Curt Gasteyger, Professor-Emeritus of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva explained the situation:

'Let's face it, Switzerland today is in a much weaker position economically and financially than it was several years ago, when it proudly could say - 'we are the strongest, we are one of the best run countries therefore we don't need the EU'. That is no longer the case. We have seen, last year and this year, serious shocks and setbacks when it comes to the Swiss economy.'

He added: 'Perhaps we will become somewhat more modest when it comes to our relationship with the EU.'

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