The European Court of Justice could settle differences between Switzerland and the European Union over their future bilateral relationship, a top Swiss diplomat has told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.
“It’s logical, as it’s European Union law that Switzerland says it wants to voluntarily accept in order to gain access to European markets,” Swiss State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry Yves Rossier told NZZ am Sonntag.
But he added that ultimately the government, parliament and the Swiss people would be the ones to decide.
The future of Switzerland’s special bilateral relationship with the EU has been blocked for a number of years. Brussels wants Switzerland to take over EU law automatically pertaining to the accords and for an international arbitration body to rule in controversial cases.
But Switzerland, which is not an EU member but has signed some 200 bilateral accords on a broad range of issues, rejects any measure which would force it to automatically adjust to developments in EU law, seeing this as an attack on its sovereignty. And so far it has always opposed a supranational body overseeing or ruling on differences.
Rossier told NZZ am Sonntag that exploratory talks between Switzerland and the European Union had identified a “practical, viable” solution that could reconcile their institutional positions.
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Rossier and David Sullivan, the Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action have held three rounds of exploratory talks – the last at the end of March - to try to find ways to bridge “incompatible” positions. A joint report is still expected.
If Switzerland makes concessions on EU proposals relating to institutional matters and EU law, Bern could conclude new bilateral accords which would be in Switzerland’s economic interest, Rossier told the Sunday paper. But if Switzerland decides to stick with its existing position, it could have “several economic disadvantages,” he added.
Without revealing any details, he said it was now up to the Swiss cabinet and the EU Council to decide whether they wanted to enter into formal negotiations over their future institutional relationship.
Last summer, Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf sent a letter to Brussels containing potential negotiable solutions. This was “received favourably” by the EU.
However, at the end of December EU transport and energy ministers formally adopted a list of complaints against Switzerland, declaring that bilateral accords were “at a dead end” and Switzerland should “dynamically assume” EU law.