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European integration Swiss put off key decisions on EU ties

Foreign Minister Burkhalter (left) says Switzerland and the EU have a mutual interest in concluding further bilateral agreements 

(Keystone)

The government has confirmed plans to seek a comprehensive framework treaty to bolster bilateral relations with the European Union.

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said the cabinet had not changed the mandate approved in 2013. This is despite a temporary deadlock in negotiations with Brussels as well as opposition, notably from the political right, to a framework treaty that would replace the existing patchwork accords and ease Swiss access to the single market.

“It is positive to see negotiations being unblocked, but we need to make progress,” Burkhalter told a news conference in Bern on Wednesday.

Talks on about 15 bilateral issues were stalled following Swiss voters approving a proposal to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens in 2014.

Burkhalter said the cabinet wanted to re-assess the situation in autumn before deciding whether to continue contributing voluntary “cohesion” payments destined for central and eastern European countries.

Tricky areas

“[The cabinet] believes that the bilateral approach should be maintained for political, economic and social reasons,” a government statement said.

Several areas in ongoing negotiations with Brussels required clarification, it continued. They include the precise scope of a legal settlement procedure, aspects of state aid, mutual recognition agreements to promote the trade in goods, as well as financial market regulations and a deal on electricity.

Burkhalter again dismissed speculation that his resignation as foreign minister at the end of October was linked to the slow progress in talks with Brussels.

He also said it was not possible to foresee what impact the negotiations between the EU and London over Britain’s withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc would have on Switzerland’s stance.

Reaction

Wednesday’s cabinet decision to review progress in talks with Brussels prompted mixed reactions. The centre-right Radical Party as well as the centrist Christian Democrats welcomed the policy approach.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party, known for its anti-EU stance, called on the government to defend Switzerland’s “full sovereignty” and “finally break off negotiations” on a framework with Brussels.

Burkhalter for his part responded that failure to conclude such a deal would leave Switzerland very few options for the future, saying it was impossible to find a perfect solution.

swissinfo.ch/urs


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