Swiss Vote to Join World Bank and IMF Opens Door to EC

ENCOURAGED by Sunday's vote to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Swiss government decided yesterday to apply immediately for membership in the European Community.

Swiss voters Sunday approved their country's membership in the World Bank and the IMF by a 55-to-45 percent margin. The vote reflects a newfound desire among Swiss to play a part in international affairs.

The government is still planning to put the EC membership question to the voters in a referendum, perhaps in December.

Some observers caution that a growing desire to become involved in the world does not necessarily mean Switzerland is ready to participate fully in European integration.

"We take [Sunday's vote] as a good sign that the Swiss people no longer have that automatic reflex to say no to all international involvement for our country," says Jens Lundsgaard, a spokesman for the Swiss People's Party in Bern. "But from there to assume that this means people will also favor joining the European Community, I think that jump cannot be made."

The conservative People's Party favored a yes vote in Sunday's referendum, for example, but Mr. Lundsgaard says it would probably oppose EC membership if a vote were held tomorrow.

The World Bank and the IMF "have no direct impact on the people in the street, but the European Community would affect every voter quite directly - in pollution, traffic through the country, immigration, farming, [and] jobs. That," he says, "will cause a much deeper contemplation."

Some opponents of Sunday's referendum are taking heart in the ambivalence expressed in the less-than-landslide result. But most observers say the vote is no fluke but a reflection of an evolution in Swiss thinking about the country's place in the world.

Saying yes to the World Bank and the IMF "is the result of a process going on within Switzerland," says Hans Ith, head of the section on monetary affairs in the Administration of Finance.

"People have realized that their own isolation is not a substitute for becoming involved and doing something," he says. "It's been difficult to accept, but many have realized there is no alternative to international cooperation."

The vote is also considered a reflection of the generally improved reputation of international governing institutions. When more than two-thirds of the Swiss voted against joining the United Nations in 1986, one of the most convincing arguments was that the UN generated lots of talk but no action.

In the wake of the cold war and the Gulf war, that assumption has changed. "If we voted on the UN again today," says Mr. Ith, "I think even there we'd see a different result."

The measure was opposed by left-wing parties and organizations that condemned the international institutions' track record in the developing world and by right-wing groups who said joining the World Bank and the IMF would cost too much.

Just how deep Switzerland's openness to the rest of the world runs will be tested again over the next year: First in September, in a referendum on a plan to bore more tunnels in the Alps to ease trans-European traffic congestion; and probably early in 1993, when voters will decide on Switzerland's participation in the recently negotiated European Economic Area.

The EEA would extend the EC's single market and free circulation of goods, people, and money to the seven members of the European Free Trade Association, including Switzerland.

Swiss attitudes toward deeper institutional links to the rest of Europe will be largely influenced by the debate going on in EC countries over ratification of the recently negotiated Maastricht Treaty on political and economic integration, observers say.

"If the opposition [to Maastricht] grows in strength, if the talk is of small countries losing their influence or of a Community that is becoming too centralized, it will no doubt have an effect here," says Ith. "The Swiss may be changing, but they remain very sensitive to any arguments of strong centralization."

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