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Policy debate


Swiss foreign minister defends EU treaty idea


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Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, speaking at the Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Bern on August 5, 2016 (Keystone / Manuel Lopez)

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, speaking at the Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Bern on August 5, 2016

(Keystone / Manuel Lopez)

If voted on today, it’s unlikely that an economic framework accord with the European Union would be approved – believes Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter. But the idea is a sensible one. 

In an interview with Sunday’s NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Burkhalter said he was “grateful” to rightwing Swiss People’s Party strongman Christoph Blocher for stirring up debate on Friday

“Thanks to the campaign by Mr Blocher, people are discussing the substance of the accord,” said Burkhalter, a member of the centre-right Radical Party. “This will show that we need such a framework to preserve Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU.” 

On Friday, former cabinet member Blocher introduced a campaign against the planned treaty. His committee argues that nothing can justify bringing Swiss laws into harmony with European Union treaties or letting Brussels impose binding rules and regulations on Switzerland, and then allowing EU courts to settle disputes. 

Burkhalter, however, defends the basic idea of ​​a framework agreement: “If we have access to the EU market, we cannot apply our laws; there need to be rules for everyone.” Otherwise, Swiss laws would have to be adapted. “If Mr Blocher fights this agreement, he’ll be threatening the bilateral way.” 

As the foreign minister told NZZ am Sonntag, Switzerland is in a relatively comfortable position as it was the EU’s idea to pen an accord in 2008. It was only in 2014 that Switzerland agreed. Also, there are no urgent market access issues for Switzerland.

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