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Swiss-EU ties EU ambassador: political obstacles are ‘being removed’

Swiss President Doris Leuthard greets the new EU ambassador to Switzerland Michael Matthiessen in January 2017

(Keystone)

The new European Union ambassador to Switzerland says Swiss-EU relations appear to be entering a more positive phase. Key dossiers, such as the Horizon 2020 research programme, are being unblocked.

“The thaw is coming” after three tense years, Michael Matthiessen, the new EU ambassador to Bern, told the Le Temps newspaper in an interview on Thursday.

“After the immigration solution found by the Swiss parliament last December, we are entering a more positive phase…the blockages linked to the free movement of people and the February 9, 2014 vote are being removed.”

The Danish diplomat, who has been in his job for six months, pointed to dossiers like the Horizon 2020 research programme that was unfrozen in December.

“The green light will be given in the coming days or weeks for other blocked issues,” he added.

Last December, parliament voted through measures to implement the controversial February 2014 vote which called for quotas on immigrants form the European Union. Parliament’s measures give locals first priority at job opportunities and dismiss the idea of quotas which had been voted for.

Switzerland had been struggling to find a political solution to implement the initiative that did not endanger relations and key agreements between the EU and Switzerland, such as the free movement of people accord.

Switzerland was frozen out of Horizon 2020 following the February 2014 immigration vote and given "third country" status with fewer privileges.

Institutional framework

However, Matthiessen said blockages linked to accessing the EU’s single market of 500 million people for other matters would continue as long as an agreement has not been found on an institutional framework accord.

He said progress has nonetheless been made in recent weeks to find a mechanism to resolve disagreements which respects Swiss sovereignty.

It is ‘perhaps a good moment for the EU and Switzerland to move even closer together’, he told Le Temps.

Matthiessen said that Brexit negotiations on the horizon, the upcoming 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome which paved the way for European integration and a ‘worrying’ geopolitical situation present ‘a window of opportunity’ for Swiss-EU relations.

Yet it is risky to think that Britain’s decision to leave the EU will offer Switzerland any opportunities, he commented.

“I am not certain that Switzerland can benefit from what is going on,” said Matthiessen, adding that negotiations with London were likely to be drawn out.

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