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Swiss referendum paves the way for new agreements with the EU

Swiss nationals have voted in favour of seven agreements with the European Union taking Swiss researchers a step nearer to closer collaboration with researchers in the EU. In a referendum on 21 May, the Swiss people voted through the agreements covering: the free movement of ...

Swiss nationals have voted in favour of seven agreements with the European Union taking Swiss researchers a step nearer to closer collaboration with researchers in the EU. In a referendum on 21 May, the Swiss people voted through the agreements covering: the free movement of people to allow EU citizens to work in Switzerland; public procurement; land and air transport; agricultural aspects; the internal market; and research. The agreements have now been ratified by the European Parliament, the Swiss government and the Swiss voting public. However, because of the bilateral nature of the agreements, they cannot enter into force until the national governments of the 15 EU Member States also cast approving votes. Officials at the Swiss-EU research liaison office (Swisscore) in Brussels anticipate the process will be completed early in 2001. Currently, Switzerland has a framework agreement for scientific and technological cooperation with the EU, which was signed in 1986 and entered into force in 1987. The new 'Association agreement' will allow Swiss researchers to participate in the horizontal activities of the European Commission's Fifth RTD Framework programme - such as the Marie Curie fellowship scheme - and act as project co-ordinators. 'This might encourage Swiss researchers to initiate project proposals for FP5,' says a Swisscore official. 'The research agreement will also be beneficial for Swiss research because the Swiss government will pay its contribution for FP5 to the Commission, reducing the administrative workload at national level. We will also be able to organise EU conferences in Switzerland and it will be easier for Swiss research teams to get involved in the more politically sensitive EU programme for Innovation and SMEs.' Speaking on behalf of the EU after the referendum, Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission said: 'I am very glad that the Swiss people have today accepted the seven agreements by such a large majority. The result of the referendum clearly demonstrates the will of the Swiss people to further develop and foster relations with the European Union. It is a milestone on our joint road towards prosperity and stability in Europe, to the benefit of the people of Switzerland and of the European Union'.