Swiss-EU Ties Under Strain: Switzerland Seeks a Referendum on Relations with EU

Written by | Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Switzerland might be seeking a referendum to clarify its relationship with the European Union, Swiss President Doris Leuthard said. Swiss-EU ties are getting complicated as Brussels negotiates its divorce bill with the UK and importantly, a new trade deal. New frictions emerged this week after the EU had granted Swiss stock exchanges only partial access to the bloc, making Swiss call the move discrimination and seek retaliation.

”The bilateral path is important,“ President Leuthard commented. ”We therefore have to clarify our relationship with Europe. We have to know in which direction to go. Therefore a fundamental referendum would be helpful.” EU-Swiss bilateral relations currently consist of around 100 stand-alone agreements and talks on an overarching deal have been around for some time. The momentum built up last month after Switzerland agreed to increase its contribution to the EU budget. An all-encompassing deal would make sure that Switzerland adopts relevant EU laws in return for enhanced access to the EU’s single market, which is key for Swiss exports.

However, President Leuthard is stepping down from the rotating office at the end of this year and a broader deal is poised to be opposed by the anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP), currently the biggest group in the parliament. Ms. Leuthard commented that some EU members were putting Switzerland in the same category as Britain, while others wanted to boost their own financial centers at Bern’s expense. “Of course, the differences with Brussels are now in focus. Here our attitude is clear – for the EU to link such a technical thing like stock exchange equivalency with a political question like the framework treaty, that is not possible”, Ms. Leuthard said.

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