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Quid pro quo EU-Swiss relations affecting health warning systems

European Union and Swiss flags together
(Keystone)

A bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the European Union on public health early warning systems has not been signed because Brussels wants to make it conditional on an overall framework agreement, the Swiss Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday.  

The story was first raised by the NZZ newspaper, who reported that Switzerland currently has no official access to European Union alert and communication systems on health issues, although a bilateral agreement has been ready since September 2015. 

The newspaper sourced the information from a parliamentary control committee 2017 annual report published Thursday. In the report, a public health official described the situation as “worrying”. 

Up to 2013, Switzerland had access to various EU communication and alert systems, allowing it to obtain important health information. But Bern has lost its observer status in the relevant bodies, notably the EU’s Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) for communicable diseases. 

As a result, the Federal Office of Public Health is not always informed about the possible spread of infectious diseases. Swiss health experts must instead gather information through informal contacts. 

The foreign ministry told the Swiss news agency, ATS, on Friday that Brussels has made any future readmission to such a system conditional on the finalising of an institutional framework agreement, which the two sides have been negotiating since 2014. 

+Read more about Swiss-EU negotiations on a framework agreement

The purpose of the framework accord is to reorganize the current patchwork of bilateral agreements, in particular those on single market access.  

This comes after the EU in December slapped a one-year limit on Swiss stock exchange access to its markets, apparently also as a way to exert pressure to reach a new framework agreement on bilateral relations.

ATS-SDA/jc

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