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Swiss blame EU for impasse on framework deal

President Guy Parmelin (left) and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis on their way to a news conference following several hours of talks with the foreign affairs committees of parliament. Keystone/Peter Schneider

The Swiss government says it will not agree an overarching accord with the European Union if Brussels is not willing to compromise on open issues.

This content was published on April 26, 2021 - 22:32
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“We seek a balanced result which ensures Switzerland’s vital interests,” President Guy Parmelin told a news conference on Monday. “We need solutions to settle our differences.”

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said that the EU has so far not been willing to accept Switzerland’s proposals.

Cassis said the Swiss chief negotiator held several negotiations over the past few months and she had made Switzerland’s position clear.

“The main difference is the definition of the free movement of people (……) and labour market regulations,” Cassis said.

Parmelin refused to say whether the Swiss government is considering abandoning the so- called framework agreement with EU, while Cassis added Switzerland was interested in maintaining close ties with Brussels.

Consultations

The statements came after Parmelin and Cassis briefed the foreign affairs committees of both chambers of parliament, following a high-level meeting in Brussels with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week.

Both parliamentary panels agreed that the government keep trying to close a deal with EU that could consolidate an accord with Switzerland’s biggest trading partner.

The government is due to decide on the next steps over the next few days, following consultations with the 26 cantons, the employers organisations and trade unions.

At present EU-Swiss economic ties are governed by more than 120 bilateral agreements.

Observers say failure to strike a deal could block Switzerland from any new access to the single market, such as an electricity union. Existing accords will also erode over time, such as an agreement on cross-border trade in medical technology products that lapses in May.

The Swiss research community is anxious that a lack of progress could affect the Alpine nation’s future participation in the Horizon Europe research programme. On Monday, von der Leyen reiterated that the Swiss lacked commitment towards the framework talks. She added that to participate in Horizon Europe Switzerland should unblock funds promised for the so-called “cohesion fund” for improving living standards in less well-off EU states.

Parmelin (left) followed by Cassis both were invited to brief the parliamentary committees about the future of Switzerland's relations with the EU. Keystone / Peter Schneider

Drawn out negotiations

Formal negotiations with Brussels about a so-called framework agreement ended in 2018, but the Swiss government refused to acknowledge the result.

It called for “clarifications” from Brussels as the chief negotiator tried to convince the EU to agree an accord that does not include the controversial issues, notably access to Switzerland’s social security scheme and the protection of salary levels as well as state subsidies.

The framework agreement is fundamentally opposed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, while the trade unions as well as well as left-wing parties have threatened to block a deal over salary protection.

Other main parties have also expressed reservations making it highly unlikely that the existing deal would be accepted by voters in a nationwide ballot.

So far, Swiss voters have endorsed the bilateral agreements with the EU in seven ballots over the past more than 20 years.

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