Special measures to protect Swiss wages and working conditions remain a red line in the country's negotiations for a new relationship with the European Union, Swiss foreign affairs minister Ignazio Cassis has said.
Earlier this week, Cassis appeared to appeared to signal that Switzerland would be prepared to take a flexible approachexternal link to labour market rules in its talks with the EU during an interview with Swiss public radio SRF, indicating movement on a potential stumbling block for any deal. This stance has been criticised by the leading unionsexternal link in the country.
But on Friday Cassis stressed that labour market rules were still important for Switzerland.
"The accompanying measures for the free movement of persons are still disputed, for us [they are] simply a red line," Cassis told an event in Bern for 50th anniversary of the Swiss Society for Foreign Policy, in published comments.external link
Switzerland in 2004 introduced the measures to protect Swiss wages and working conditions, two years after an agreement with the EU to allow mutual access to the labour market came into effect. Free movement is a prerequisite for Swiss access to the EU single market.
The country is currently trying to negotiate an institutional framework agreement with the EU to reorganise selected bilateral agreements between the sides, so they can be adapted to any potential legal developments in future.
Britain's exit from the European Union also made concessions difficult, Cassis said.
"The EU could move on this here, but at the negotiating table the EU diplomats hear 'Switzerland' and immediately think of 'UK'. Every concession to Switzerland suddenly creates a precedent for Brexit," Cassis added.
Switzerland and the EU aim to hammer out an agreement this year. If the current negotiations do not succeed, both sides will have to look for a solution after the Swiss and EU elections, which are due to take place next year, Cassis said.