Swiss Vote to Join E.U. Passport-Free Zone

Swiss President Samuel Schmid comments in Bern after voters approved the nation's entry into a passport-free zone.
Swiss President Samuel Schmid comments in Bern after voters approved the nation's entry into a passport-free zone. (By Ruben Sprich -- Reuters)
Associated Press
Monday, June 6, 2005

GENEVA, June 5 -- A narrow majority of Swiss voters approved joining a European Union passport-free zone, abolishing checks on the country's border by 2007, according to final results from a national referendum Sunday.

In a second vote, a larger majority favored granting more rights to same-sex couples in the first national referendum on such an issue in Europe.

Signaling Swiss desire for closer integration with the E.U., about 55 percent of voters, or 1.47 million people, supported joining Europe's passport-free "Schengen" zone by 2007. The name refers to the town in Luxembourg where the agreement on cross-border travel was signed in 1985.

The zone allows travel through all participating countries without border checks. The 15 current members are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Because Switzerland is not a member of the E.U., Swiss customs controls would remain in place after the country joins the zone.

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, the people's consent is required on any major issue.

The result goes against the prevailing mood in the E.U., which is reeling from the past week's rejections by French and Dutch voters of a proposed constitution for the 25-country bloc. Before the referendum, experts predicted that those rejections would encourage opponents of the passport-free zone. Opinion polls showed that the majority support for joining the zone narrowed rapidly before voting day.

In the referendum's other issue, 1.56 million people, or 58 percent, supported granting more rights to same-sex couples.

Starting in 2007, registered same-sex couples will receive the same tax and pension status as married couples, but they will not be allowed to adopt children or undergo fertility treatment.

It is the first national vote in Europe on such an issue, although other countries, such as Germany, have passed laws allowing registration of same-sex couples.

About 56 percent of the 4.8 million eligible voters participated, about 10 percent more than the average turnout in referendums over the past 15 years.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company