Switzerland’s preferred way of dealing with the European Union by means of bilateral agreements, has found support from two prominent German politicians, despite official EU warnings that the bilateral path has no future.
The German vice-chancellor and economics minister, Philipp Rösler, of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) – the junior partner in the ruling coalition - told the Swiss German-language Sonntag newspaper in remarks published on Sunday that bilateralism was “not a thing of the past”.
“In our view it works well. Switzerland has decided in favour of the bilateral path, and I believe it has a future,” he said.
“You cannot force a country into a system that it doesn’t want, and that must be respected.”
“Germany is and remains a friend of Switzerland, and understands its position very well.”
Support for Switzerland was also expressed by Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen, of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
“I should like to tell the Swiss from the bottom of my heart: You have good and reliable friends in Germany,” Sonntag quoted her as saying.
The paper said that Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann had spoken of receiving a “clear commitment” from Rösler and von der Leyen during his meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos in the past week.
It commented that the German government evidently wanted to counteract the “anti-Swiss polemics” coming from leading members of the opposition Social Democratic party, like Peer Steinbrück, his party’s candidate to oppose Merkel in elections later this year.
Steinbrück - a long-term critic of Swiss banking secrecy - gained notoriety in Switzerland in 2009 when he compared the Swiss to Native Americans “running scared” of the US cavalry. In November 2012 Steinbrück’s Social Democrats, along with the Green Party, blocked a deal which would have led to a German-Swiss tax accord, by voting against it in the Senate.
The EU has officially told Switzerland that all future agreements with Switzerland “must include an obligatory legal mechanism to ensure that they will be automatically adapted to constantly evolving legislation”.
A letter to this effect was sent at the end of last year by European Commission chairman José Manuel Barroso, and earlier this month the EU ambassador to Switzerland, Richard Jones, repeated that the system of fixed agreements was coming to an end and “needed to be reconsidered”.
Top level negotiators from the two sides are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the future course of relations.