Swiss-Exit? – EU Angered as Switzerland Abandons Talks on Closer Ties with the Bloc

Written by | Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Switzerland last week canceled talks to salvage a long-delayed cooperation agreement with the European Union, saying the terms were unacceptable despite Brussels’ claims they are better than those offered to the United Kingdom during the Brexit negotiations. Bern also said it could not accept Brussels’ demands on issues like the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, and of a free movement directive that would offer permanent residence to EU citizens, with access to social security granted to non-employed residents such as job-seekers and students. “Taking into account [domestic] consultations and based on the results of negotiations in recent months, the [Swiss] Federal Council has determined that the talks with the EU … have not led to the necessary solutions,” Swiss President Guy Parmelin told reporters in Bern. “The Federal Council has therefore decided to terminate the negotiations on the draft institutional agreement.”
The new so-called framework agreement had been negotiated between 2014 and 2018 and was supposed to upgrade EU-Swiss relations — which are currently governed by a patchwork of 100-plus bilateral treaties — in the areas of seamless travel, mutual recognition of industrial standards, agricultural products, state aid, medical devices, civil aviation and land transport. Switzerland, while outside the EU, is the bloc’s fourth biggest trading partner and its economy is closely integrated with those of the 27 member states. Citizens of Switzerland and the EU member states have a mutual right to free movement. But many felt the new agreement was one-sided and gave too much away to Brussels – the Swiss government claimed it could not accept the EU’s demands to maintain and deepen ties as they would be rejected in a legally required referendum on a deal.
While in Brussels there was shock and anger, in Switzerland, there was quiet celebration and relief — but, for some, doubts about what exactly comes next. “You’d never sign a contract like that in business,” said Philip Erzinger, the head of a Kompass Europe, an anti-framework agreement campaign group. “It was one sided. It required us to take on EU law without any mechanism for saying No. It would have been a direct interference in our system of direct democracy and cantons in Switzerland.” For opponents of the process, the moment was akin to the UK’s referendum to end its membership of the bloc. Yet through 120 bilateral agreements, it enjoys almost full access to the EU’s internal market and is a member of its passport-free travel zone. It is also tightly aligned with the bloc that surrounds it on a vast array of economic and legal matters. Even so, without a framework agreement the EU will not update or upgrade the bilateral arrangements when it changes its own rules. As a result, the Swiss will gradually lose access, creating uncertainty for businesses and residents.

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