The European Union has stepped up pressure on Switzerland to sign a framework agreement by threatening to freeze discussions in other areas of bilateral cooperation, including access to the single market.
According to Keystone-SDA, who confirmed a story reported on Thursday in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, an internal EU document dated January 10 instructed Brussels officials not to begin or continue discussions with Switzerland until an outcome was reached on the framework agreement.
This could affect the five key policy areas included in the draft framework accord under discussion: free movement of people, agricultural products, air and ground transport, and mutual recognition of standards. Talks on these issues should only happen if clearly in the interest of Brussels, the document instructed.
The note also mentioned the issue of stock market equivalence, a key bargaining chip; Swiss access to the EU stock market was extended for a provisional period of six months in December.
The EU and Switzerland, which is not a member of the 28-nation bloc, have been struggling for five years to finalise an institutional framework agreement aimed at cementing future ties. Current relations are covered by around 120 separate accords that have been negotiated since 1992.
Swiss appetite to finalise the agreement has been mixed, however, with politicians from both right and left recently calling for a renegotiation of the latest terms. A public consultation process involving those concerned is currently being prepared.
The EU, on the other hand, is pushing for a prompt outcome, and Thursday’s news is the latest in a series of signs that it is willing to put pressure on Switzerland.
Brussels is getting “a little impatient”, said EU Ambassador to Switzerland Michael Matthiessen on Swiss public radio RTS on Thursday morning. The discussions are finished, he reiterated; there is nothing to be renegotiated.
“It’s not in Switzerland’s interest to wait,” he said, referring to the fact that 2019 is an election year both in Brussels and the Alpine nation. New political faces could alter the stakes, he said.
The Swiss government also alluded to this on Thursday, saying that a delay in signing the draft accord could mean starting everything from scratch under a new negotiating mandate in a few years.