No harm in Swiss 'no'

BRUSSELS - The prospect of an enlarged European Community of some 19 members is not harmed by the Swiss rejection of a free-trade deal binding them closer to the Community, EC foreign ministers said last night, writes Sarah Lambert.

'We respect the Swiss decision and there are mechanisms in the treaty to allow for such a contingency, but it must not be allowed to hold up everyone else,' said the Foreign Office Minister responsible for European affairs, Tristan Garel-Jones.

By voting 'no' in a referendum on whether or not Switzerland should ratify the agreement creating the European Economic Area (EEA), the country has forced renegotiation of a treaty agreed after months of hard bargaining last year. Conceived as a half-way house to full EC membership, it offered Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein - currently members of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) - the advantages of the Community's free- trade zone without the political commitments.

EC diplomats made clear that the Swiss rejection was a Swiss problem. The country has already applied to open negotiations on full EC membership and that, EC officials said yesterday, remains on the table.

But the reality is that the timetable for everyone else is necessarily slowed since the treaty mentions Switzerland in virtually all its numerous clauses and will have to be re-written.

The seven Efta nations meet on Thursday and Friday to discuss the problem and will report to the EC at a meeting conveniently scheduled for next Monday. But Efta officials said that a new treaty could not be ready before February at the earliest. This is in itself something of a failure since the seven had hoped to be part of the single market from its inception on 1 January.

In theory, Sweden, Austria Finland, Norway and Switzerland could decide to abandon the EEA arrangement and begin discussion on full membership straightaway. But events of recent months have had a negative effect on public opinion. 'We need the EEA if only to prove to the public that full EC memberships won't result in mass immigration or a dilution of our welfare laws,' an official confided yesterday.

The burning question is whether negotiations on admitting new members can begin before the Maastricht treaty is ratified - in principle the sine qua non of enlargement. Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland are insisting that financial commitments promised under the treaty must first be made good.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Inspection Inventory Clerk

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a fast growing in...

Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV & HGV Mechanics

£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee