Switzerland-EU: What’s Next?

Nasha Gazeta has repeatedly said that Switzerland and the European Union have been discussing a framework (also called personnel or institutional) agreement for several years, securing the general principles of their trade, economic and political relations. Negotiations between Bern and Brussels proceeded according to the principle of “one step forward – two back”, with the EU using a variety of levers of pressure to speed up the signing of the document, for example, by refusing to recognize the equivalence of the Swiss exchange.

In general, everyone has long been accustomed to this endless diplomatic epic, and the most likely scenarios seemed to be those in which Switzerland either, in the end, will sign an agreement, or for some time will successfully bargain with Brussels for time to achieve concessions. Not everyone was ready for Bern to put an end to this issue, so it came as a surprise to many when on Wednesday the Federal Council announced that it had decided not to sign the agreement and informed the EU about this decision, thereby ending negotiations on the project.

The government communiqué notes that since January 2021, six rounds of talks have taken place between Secretary of State Livia Leu, responsible for the European dossier in the Confederation, and Stephanie Riso, deputy head of the cabinet of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Moreover, on April 23, Swiss President Guy Parmelin and the head of the European Commission met in Brussels, but the meeting did not bring any results. As a result, years of negotiations ended in failure.

The government concluded that “there are significant differences in key areas of the agreement between Switzerland and the EU,” and the conditions for its conclusion were not met. What became the stumbling block between Bern and Brussels? These are three main points: the protection of wages in the Confederation from the inflow of cheaper labor from the EU states, government subsidies to enterprises and sectors of the economy, and the legal status of “EU citizen”. If Bern recognizes the existence of such a status, then residents of the Confederation from the EU countries will receive in Switzerland the same rights to social assistance as the Swiss themselves. Full adoption of the directive on the rights of EU citizens would mean a paradigm shift in immigration policy, which the Federal Council does not want.

Brussels reacted with restraint, noting in a press release that it regrets the decision of the Federal Council, “given the progress made in recent years.” The reactions of political circles in Switzerland itself were more emotional. The Swiss People’s Party (UDC / SVP) welcomed the government’s decision, considering it almost its own victory. According to the party, the signing of the agreement would mean “a massive loss of sovereignty for Switzerland and would undermine direct democracy.” The Socialists, in turn, expressed regret about the failure of the negotiations, as well as the fact that the Federal Council did not seriously consider other ways, in particular the one proposed by the Socialist Party (PS / SP) itself: a concession to Switzerland on the EU citizens directive in exchange on guarantees for the protection of wages. The Greens, not at all embarrassed in their expressions, noted that the decision to break off negotiations on a framework agreement is “irresponsible, cowardly and erroneous.” This failure willThis could have significant negative consequences for the EU, but especially for Switzerland, and the responsibility for this, according to environmentalists, should be taken by Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and the government. Cassis himself, who looked extremely tired in an interview with RTS, said that he “put his whole soul” into this agreement. “When you start negotiations, you do it with the aim of reaching an agreement. But not at any cost. The final assessment showed what the price would be, and the Federal Council decided that it was too high, ”the Minister of Foreign Affairs emphasized.

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As for the future of bilateral relations, it is in Switzerland’s interest to preserve existing agreements, that is, to adhere to the time-tested approach even without an institutional agreement. Bern looks forward to continuing political dialogue with the EU and developing cooperation, especially in the health and energy sectors. Let us recall that this cooperation is based on more than 100 bilateral agreements concluded back in 1972 and amended after the renunciation of membership in the European Economic Area in 1992. They will remain in place, but the absence of a framework agreement could block any new Swiss access to the single market and weaken existing agreements that are about to expire, RTS said. The Confederation, in particular, hopes that the paragraph on medical devices in the agreement on the elimination of technical barriers to trade, for example, will still be updated and will continue to operate, and not technically withareas related to the European dossier (science, research, mutual recognition of the equivalence of exchanges) will not become the object of political pressure and will not suffer.

It should be noted that Brussels is also not profitable to break off relations with the Confederation, which is one of the most important economic partners of the EU , ranking fourth in trade in goods, third in trade in services, second in investment, not to mention a regular trade surplus of tens of billions of euros. Moreover, Switzerland is home to around 1.4 million EU citizens, and 340,000 frontaliers come to work in the country.

In other words, a joint search for solutions to specific problems is necessary for both parties. How Brussels will behave is still unknown, but at least it received a clear signal from Bern. Switzerland is ready to remain a reliable partner of the European Union, shares European values ​​and is committed to joint efforts to solve global problems, in particular, to mitigate the effects of climate change, protect human rights, peace and security, and fight poverty, but the Confederation is not ready to agree to this which is contrary to her own national interests.

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