|Author (Person)||Cordes, Renée|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.4, No.36, 8.10.98, p6|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
DIPLOMATS are warning that agreement on a wide-ranging EU-Switzerland accord may not be in sight yet, despite recent developments which have boosted hopes of a breakthrough.
Austria has vowed to press for a compromise deal by the end of its presidency to settle the long-running dispute with Bern over tolls for lorries travelling on Swiss roads, clearing the last major obstacle to an overall accord.
But other member states say that unless Vienna itself shows greater flexibility, it will be impossible to settle the dispute. "If they want to score a goal, they will have to take a few kicks," said one diplomat.
Hopes of breaking the deadlock rose late last month after Swiss citizens voted in favour of a proposed kilometre-based tax on heavy goods vehicles as compensation for removing a ban on trucks weighing more than 28 tonnes.
An end to the ban is seen as crucial to an overall EU-Switzerland deal, as the Union operates a much higher ceiling of 40 tonnes.
There are also hopes that it will be easier to settle the dispute now that the German election is out of the way. Bonn has been among the member states opposed to the proposals currently on the table and defeated Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government could not be seen to give ground ahead of the vote.
Austrian Transport Minister Caspar Einem told his EU counterparts last week that he hoped to table a new compromise when they meet again next month.
Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, which rely heavily on Alpine roads to transport goods across Europe, have always insisted that the Swiss heavy truck ban must be lifted.
However, a compromise deal brokered by the Commission earlier this year, under which Switzerland would lift the ban after 2005 and replace it with an average charge of just over 200 ecu a year for trucks crossing its territory, failed to satisfy them. Bern argues that higher tolls would reduce traffic, help to lower pollution and finance road repairs. But critics say the proposed levies are still excessive.
Efforts to settle the dispute have been complicated by Austria's insistence on maintaining it current high tolls on the Brenner Pass, a crucial route linking Italy to Europe's northern member states.
Vienna argues that it cannot reduce its tolls below those on Swiss Alpine passes as this would encourage more traffic on to its roads, and has indicated that it will not move before the European Court of Justice delivers a ruling on the issue.
Diplomats say that unless Austria shows some flexibility now, it will be hard-pressed to forge a deal with Bern. "So far we haven't seen the presidency taking any initiatives," said a Danish diplomat. "They said that they will take initiatives. If that is true, then I do believe they have a good chance, but they don't have much time."
|Countries / Regions||Switzerland|