New year--old arguments? While the New Year is traditionally a time for clean slates and fresh starts, Switzerland's politicians are likely to be confronted in 2006 by many of the same issues that dominated the previous 12 months.

Author:Ledsom, Mark

As a new parliamentary year gets underway, politicians from the Swiss left and their opponents on the right are united in one thing--they all agree on what they should be fighting about.

If the leftist Social Democratic Party and right-wing Swiss People's Party have their way, 2006 will once again be dominated by the topics that prevailed in 2005: government spending cuts, the proper treatment of foreigners, and Switzerland's future role in, or outside of, the European Union.

The more central Christian Democratic Party and the centre-right Radical Party both say there are more pressing matters to discuss but they will clearly have to fight harder than in previous years if they are to bring new items to the national agenda.

"The European question is definitely our top priority," People's Party spokesman Roman Jaggi told Swiss News. "We want the cabinet to withdraw the application which was made to join the EU (in 1992) because it is now superfluous."

"More importantly though, we want the federal government to change its current mindset and clearly tell the Swiss people that it has abandoned all plans to join the EU--only then can we look at how we deal with Europe in the future."

The four main political parties, all of whom are represented in Switzerland's seven-member cabinet, keep coming back to the issue of Europe--mainly because none of them can agree on precisely what the Swiss public thinks of the EU.

Members of the People's Party point, to the 1992 referendum in which voters overturned a government decision to sign the European Economic Area agreement --an accord that eases trade between European Free Trade Association members and the EU.

The Social Democrats argue that a lot has changed since then and as evidence, they emphasise the 2000 and 2005 votes in which the Swiss public backed a total of 16 bilateral treaties with the EU. They say Switzerland is ready to embrace the European Union.

"We feel that the bilateral approach is too slow though," Social Democrat spokeswoman Claudine Godat told Swiss News. "It's an approach that takes more and more sovereignty away from the Swiss without the compensation that comes from being fully involved in the European decision-making process.

"We agree with the People's Party that a proper debate on Europe is long overdue--even if we disagree strongly with them about the conclusions that should be reached!"

Changing the subject

Both the Christian Democrats and the Radicals will be looking to...

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