§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What effect the Swiss referendum result will have on the implementation of the European Economic Area.6WA
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)
The Swiss people voted on membership of the European Economic Area on 6th December. A majority of both the populace and of the cantons was required to enable Switzerland to ratify the EEA agreement. The results announced on 6th December were as follows: 50.3 per cent. of the populace voted against ratification; 49.7 per cent. in favour. Sixteen of the cantons voted against, with seven in favour. The proportion of the electorate that voted was 78.3 per cent.
The Government regret the Swiss decision not to join the EEA. The Foreign Affairs Council on 7th December took note of the result of the Swiss referendum. It also noted that the agreement provides arrangements to consider the situation in the event that a signatory of the agreement fails to ratify. It commented that, without Switzerland, the agreement will require modifications, which will have to be satisfactorily agreed. It expressed the hope that the agreement should be rapidly pursued. It therefore invited the Commission to have early contacts with the EFTA countries on the timing of the next steps, and to report back to the Council on 21st December.
It is the clear hope of the Community that the agreement should go ahead. It is too early to determine precisely when the agreement may now come into force. If the agreement is to be amended, a diplomatic conference will agree the necessary changes. The Government believe that every effort should be made to ensure that the agreement can be implemented as soon as possible, and we shall, in the remaining weeks of our presidency, be working towards this objective.
The European Economic Area Bill was introduced in another place on 25th November, having passed through all its stages in this House. The Government will announce in due course how it proposes to proceed with the Bill when the impact of the Swiss vote on the Community and EFTA has been fully assessed.