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‘Golden opportunity’: Swiss invited to meeting of EU ministers

Ignazio Cassis
Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said Switzerland had to move quickly if it is to avoid being further blocked on this issue because of the federal elections in October © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

When it comes to Swiss-EU relations, Switzerland will not leave the World Economic Forum (WEF) empty-handed. The Swedish EU presidency has invited Switzerland to an informal meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers in May.

“This is a first,” Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told the media on Wednesday after meeting his Swedish counterpart on the sidelines of the WEF’s annual gathering in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. Switzerland had already been invited to meetings of other European ministers, notably those of justice.

This is a “golden opportunity” and a “signal that should not be underestimated”, he added.

This contrasts with the absence of a meeting in Davos, for the second year running, with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

However, Interior Minister Alain Berset, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, said the situation should not be “over-interpreted”. He said he had had an informal talk with Von der Leyen – “a very good contact” – but he felt that a more formal format “still made absolutely no sense”.

In 2021 Switzerland unilaterally broke off negotiations with the EU on a framework deal to replace the more than 120 bilateral accords which have regulated relations for the past decades. That led to a souring of relations between Bern and Brussels. Efforts to break the diplomatic deadlock have come to nothing.

Secretary of State Livia Leu is due to travel to Brussels on Friday for a new round of exploratory talks. The aim is to complete this format in the next few months.

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Federal elections

Cassis said Switzerland had to move quickly if it is to avoid being further blocked on this issue because of the federal elections in October. If the “intensive contacts” result in a basis that allows the government to establish a new mandate for the issue, it could be decided in the coming months, he believed.

On the other hand, “the more this goes on, the harder it will be in an election year” to settle the situation with Brussels. “But this does not depend only on Switzerland.”

He said the European dossier was one of the issues that occupied him the most during his meetings with European counterparts in Davos. However, Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter was the only member of the government to meet a European Commissioner – Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for Economy.

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