As Europeans cast their votes in parliamentary elections, a new poll by Swiss media agency Tamedia finds the Swiss are far from convinced about the merits of the draft Swiss-EU framework agreement. More than 60% do not support the deal in its current form.
The pollexternal link of nearly 15,000 Swiss citizens found that only 20% of respondents think the agreement should be signed quickly without changes. In contrast, some 26% would reject the deal while 41% believe the government should renegotiate parts of the deal.
Based on a similar poll in March published in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Swiss support may be waning. At the time, 15% were against the current deal and another 20% leaned in that direction. Some 17% said they would approve the deal, while 43% declared that they probably would.
This scepticism backs up statements by the Swiss president Ueli Maurer last week at the Swiss Economic Forum that the current draft agreement lacks what is needed to win over majority support in Switzerland. Maurer indicated that Switzerland will resume discussions with Brussels to fine-tune the draft agreement.
The most recent poll found that the public’s greatest concern is salary protections with 32% indicating that this should be improved in the current draft. This was followed by concessions on the EU Citizens’ Rights Directive with some 27% believing that the Swiss should not be required to adopt this as it could lead to higher social benefit payments to EU Citizens.
Cold wind from the EU
In an interviewexternal link in the German-language newspaper SonntagsBlick, Economics Minister Guy Parmelin reflected on the critical mood in Parliament and the doubts expressed in discussions. “We have to negotiate again. Otherwise we have a double political problem: towards the EU and towards the population.”
Whether Brussels will be willing to renegotiate terms is looking less likely according to recent statements by the Secretary-General of the European Commission Martin Selmayr.
In an interview with Swiss public television SRF last Wednesday, Selmayr, in reference to difficulties in EU-Swiss relations, said “through Brexit, the EU has become more united internally, as well as outwardly tougher”.
Selmayr also rejected criticism that Brussels has been uncompromising in its stance towards Bern, arguing that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has made numerous concessions, many that came as a surprise to EU insiders.
According to the interview, long-running talks about the overarching framework agreement will not be restarted or renegotiated with the current Commission. Some clarifications and details in the text may be agreed later but there is resistance to change the text.
Brussels is eager for the Swiss government to ratify the deal by the end of June. Failure to do so could lead to sanctions such as forbidding bankers from the EU to trade on the Swiss stock exchange.
The German-language paper SonntagsZeitung noted that the Federal Council must now consider its negotiating strategy. With Brexit casting a shadow on discussions, it says that the Swiss government must demonstrate credibility that it would sign a modified agreement in the foreseeable future.
Years in the making
The framework agreement covers five key themes: free movement of persons, mutual recognition of industrial standards, agricultural products, air transport and land transport. The EU wants the umbrella agreement to replace over 20 large sectoral agreements and more than 100 smaller deals in place at the bilateral level.
The negotiations began in 2014 and a proposed accord was unveiled in December 2018. The Swiss government submitted it to a public consultation due to divergent domestic viewpoints. Brussels has given Switzerland until July 2019 to decide whether it wants to accept the deal.