Switzerland approves $1.3b in EU aid

BERN – Switzerland said Thursday it will provide more than a billion dollars in development aid to the European Union, as Bern seeks to stabilise its messy ties with Brussels.

The 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.32 billion, 1.1 billion euros) will be spread over ten years and will target lower income countries in central and eastern Europe, a statement said.

The funds are “intended to reduce economic and social disparities in Europe, which is in Switzerland’s economic and political interest”, it said.

Switzerland made a similar contribution to the EU over the previous decade and the extension of the programme must still be approved by parliament.

The announcement came as European Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker was in the Swiss capital for talks with President Doris Leuthard.

“Switzerland has shown that it is a reliable partner”, Junker told reporters after the meeting.

Asked by a journalist if he had come to the wealthy Alpine nation merely to pick up a cheque, Junker countered that his purpose in Bern was not to collect “a present”.

Switzerland’s complex ties with the EU are sewn together through a mixture of deals on trade, labour, migration and other issues.

The Bern-Brussels relationship suffered a heavy blow in 2014 when Swiss voters backed a proposal calling for the re-introduction of migrant quotas, which could have limited the number of EU citizens working in Switzerland.

The Swiss parliament last year approved a modified version of the plan to pacify the EU.

Some Swiss politicians continue to call for an updated, simpler set of agreements governing EU ties.

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