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European Economic Area Switzerland could gain from Britain’s EU negotiations

Even though Switzerland narrowly voted against joining the European Economic Area in 1992, some believe Britain's situation with the EU could allow the Swiss to join with better terms than back then


The Swiss head of the EFTA Court, which partially governs the European Economic Area (EEA), believes that if post-Brexit Britain can negotiate remaining in an expanded EEA with a greater right of co-determination, Switzerland could also benefit concerning access to European markets.

Carl Baudenbacher told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Monday that remaining in the European Economic Area would allow Britain access to the European Union’s market even though its people on Thursday voted to leave the bloc. 

The EEA – of which non-EU Switzerland is not a member – allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the EU’s internal market. The EFTA court governs the terms of the EEA for those countries which are in both organisations.

Currently, members of the EEA who are not in the European Union – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – do not have governing rights within the organisation. However, Britain would insist upon those rights if it “re-joined” the EEA, Baudenbacher said. And if it got them, that would open doors for Switzerland to join the EEA as well under the same terms. 

Ideally, he added, all current members of the European Free Trade Area – including Switzerland – would eventually also join the EEA, which Baudenbacher said works well. The Swiss people narrowly rejected joining the EEA in 1992. 

“Conflict resolution through joint committees – such as Switzerland’s current bilateral approach – represents an old regime,” he said, adding that EEA membership would give the Swiss insurance and banking sectors better access to European markets. 

Baudenbacher believes Switzerland should react to Brexit by “inviting Britain to access the EFTA and then joining the EEA along with them”.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA): An intergovernmental trade organisation and free trade area. Members are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.  

The European Economic Area (EEA): Allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the EU’s internal market. Open to member states of either the European Union or European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Switzerland is not currently a member.

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