Switzerland: Reporter discusses collapse of EU trade talks
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The EU has pushed for years for a treaty to cap an array of bilateral accords and require the Swiss to routinely adopt changes to single market rules. Talks between Bern and its biggest trading partner broke off in May over concerns about yielding too much sovereignty to the bloc.
According to Markus Notter, President of the University of Zurich’s Institute for European Studies and former Zurich Director of Justice, Switzerland’s bilateral agreement with the EU is increasingly at risk of becoming imbalanced.
That plays into the hands of the opponents of the free movement of people, the SP member warned the unions.
Mr Notter told German daily NZZ: “The parties’ most recent positions seem to me like a continuation of the discussion that we have been having for 50 years.
“Switzerland is torn about European integration. For economic and geographic reasons, it partly has to take part, but it thinks it can’t take part because of direct democracy and other considerations.
“The country is dealing with this dilemma and cannot find a sustainable solution with the EU. What is new is that Switzerland has been alone in this special situation for some time. In the case of the EEA, the EFTA states were still looking for solutions together.”
Making parallels with the UK, he added: “Yes, the UK is serving as a model post-Brexit for some voices on the right and left.
“They believe that a free trade agreement with the EU would also be sufficient for Switzerland.”
Warning Brussels of the issues surrounding the bloc’s agreement with Switzerland on freedom of movement, he said: “The opponents of the free movement of people lost the vote. But they just have to sit back and buy time.
“Every year that Switzerland doesn’t make a fresh start with the EU plays into the hands of those who just want a free trade agreement. A step-by-step Swiss Brexit is in progress.”
In December, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the bloc’s relationship with Bern is at risk of “disintegration”.
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Mr Sefcovic, who oversees EU-Swiss affairs, said: “The EU’s relationship with Switzerland is in danger of disintegrating.
“Should new negotiations not lead to success, the bilateral agreements that were still in force would gradually expire and make our relationship obsolete at some point.”
Switzerland would have to give assurances it would abide by EU internal market rules if Bern is committed to new negotiations, Sefcovic said.
The European Union wants Switzerland to agree to a dynamic alignment of its laws with EU law, a level playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes and regular contributions to EU funds for poorer EU members.
Mr Sefcovic added: “We urgently need to know from Switzerland whether it seriously wants to negotiate with us.”
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In November, the European Union urged Switzerland to set out a clear timetable for resolving the EU internal market issues by January.
Mr Sefcovic continued: “We have to know what we want to talk about when – so that it is clear that the discussion will not last 20 or 30 years.”
EU-Swiss economic ties are governed by more than 100 bilateral agreements stretching back to 1972.
A collapse in relations over time could jeopardise Switzerland’s de facto membership of the EU common market that Bern is keen to maintain.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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