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The BBC's Claire Wood
"This is an extremely hard sell"
 real 56k

Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 16:51 GMT
Swiss say 'no' to EU
An election official
The preliminary results were not surprising
The Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for immediate membership talks with the European Union, according to exit polls and early results.

Initial forecasts, broadcast by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, indicate that between 70% and 80% voted against the initiative, known as "Yes to Europe".

A man swings an European flag in the Swiss alps
Many Swiss feel they have little to gain from EU ties
The preliminary results come as no surprise, as analysts had predicted that only about 32% would vote "yes".

Switzerland's four-party coalition government had urged the 4.6 million electorate to oppose the plan, saying it was politically premature.

Forecasts

The government says such talks should not start before the 2003-2007 legislative period.

The exit polls indicate that a large majority in German-speaking cantons voted against.

A member of the committee
The pro-Europe movement is disappointed
Even in Geneva - the heart of the country's French-speaking region that has traditionally been most supportive of closer European ties - 58% of voters are thought to have rejected the initiative.

The proposal was submitted by the Socialist Party and youth groups with the 100,000 signatures necessary to file for a popular referendum.

Although the seven-member Cabinet has repeatedly stated it wants Switzerland to join the EU, it argued that public opinion would not permit that until at least 2010.

Members of the "New European Movement Switzerland", which launched the initiative, expressed disappointment at the result.

They said they had not expected such a low "yes" vote.

Strong economy

But with their economy prospering, many Swiss feel they have little to gain and much to lose from closer EU ties.

And there seems to be little appetite for dropping the Swiss franc in favour of the Euro.

A woman casts her ballot
The government urged the electorate to vote against the plan
Swish inflation is lower than the European average and economic growth is higher.

Last year, there was a record budget surplus of 4.5 billion Swiss francs ($2,6 billion).

Inflation and unemployment are only about 2%, and foreign companies are flocking to set up headquarters in Switzerland.

And with the European single currency continuing to languish against other key currencies, few Swiss see the benefits of giving up their traditionally strong currency.

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See also:

09 Feb 01 | Europe
Europeans divided on their union
10 Dec 00 | Europe
Rifts delay EU summit
05 Dec 00 | Europe
How the EU was built
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Switzerland
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