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IN THE NEWS - March 9, 2002: Switzerland Joins UN - 2002-03-08

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

Last Sunday, Switzerland voted to join the United Nations. If approved by the U-N, Switzerland would become the one-hundred ninetieth member of the world organization.

More than fifty-four percent of the Swiss voters supported the proposal. Forty-five percent voted against it. The proposal also had to be approved by a majority of Swiss states, called cantons. The result of that vote was much closer. It passed twelve cantons to eleven.

This was not the first time Swiss voters had considered U-N membership. In Nineteen-Eighty-Six, seventy-five percent of voters rejected a proposal that Switzerland join the organization.

However, the Swiss government campaigned intensely for U-N membership this time. Industries and trade unions also fought for the proposal’s approval. They argued that Switzerland could not have an influential voice in world issues unless it became a U-N member.

Political experts say the terrorist attacks in the United States September eleventh probably increased support for the proposal. Experts say the attacks may have changed the way the Swiss felt about their country and how world events might affect it.

Switzerland has a long history of being strongly independent and neutral in world issues. Opponents to U-N membership noted that tradition often in their campaign.

Wealthy businessman Christopher Blocher directed the campaign against joining the U-N. He is a leader of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party. Mister Blocher argued that Switzerland would lose neutrality and freedom in joining the U-N membership. His campaign warned that Swiss soldiers would be forced to take part in peacekeeping operations. He also said Switzerland could be forced to join in economic restrictions and similar actions against other countries.

Swiss government officials are celebrating the vote. Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss called Switzerland the winner of the election. He said the time has come for Switzerland to have responsibilities within the U-N system and to be able to defend its interests in the international community.

Switzerland now is an observer to the U-N. It is a member of several U-N agencies such as the World Health Organization. It already gives about three-hundred-million dollars yearly to U-N agencies. And Switzerland is the home of the U-N headquarters in Europe.

Now, Switzerland will officially ask U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan if it may join as a full member. The request will go before the U-N Security Council and then to the General Assembly. If the request is approved, as expected, Vatican City will become the only state that is not a member of the world organization.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.