Talks between the European Commission and Swiss Presidents have failed to yield a breakthrough in the current impasse between the two sides over immigration.
The negotiations between Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were staged on the 70th anniversary of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “United Europe” speech in Zurich.
The pair held talks before an event commemorating the anniversary of that historic speech.
Switzerland and the EU have been at loggerheads since 2014 when Swiss voters approved a popular initiative calling for a brake on immigration. This would potentially violate a bilateral agreement that guarantees the free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland.
Schneider-Ammann called the talks “friendly” and “positive”, but said a better picture of a concrete solution would have to wait several weeks. On Wednesday, the Swiss parliament will discuss a proposal to implement the initiative in a way that would be acceptable to the EU.
Schneider-Ammann said he was particularly concerned about the fate of the Horizon 2020 programme that allows collaboration with research projects.
For his part, Juncker said he was committed to working towards a solution with Switzerland, but was also unable to predict how it might look before the Swiss decide on future immigration policy. He said that Britain’s decision to leave the EU had “added another element to the already difficult issues with our Swiss friends.”
Negotiations have become even more delicate since Brexit with the EU increasingly unlikely to grant Switzerland concessions that might be demanded by Britain as it negotiates its withdrawal from the 28-member bloc.
“These questions are interlinked,” added Juncker. “What we would like to achieve is a Swiss specific arrangement.”
The next round of negotiations between Switzerland and the EU will take place at the end of October.
Schneider-Ammann and Juncker then went on the join the celebrations of Churchill’s speech, given at the University of Zurich on September 19, 1946. Churchill called on Europe to pull together to prevent another war and a possible descent into the “cruelty and squalor” of the “Dark Ages”.
Churchill said that the remedy to was to “recreate the European Family…and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, leading to the creation of the European Economic Community a year later – and later the European Union.
Neutral Switzerland’s relationship with the EU has been complex, and not without difficulty. In 1992 Swiss voters decided against joining the European Economic Area. Instead, Switzerland has agreed a number of bilateral agreements to underpin its working relationship with the EU.