Swiss appoint new chief negotiator for EU talks

Livia Leu, Swiss ambassador to France, has been appointed top negotiator for talks with the EU. She is the fifth person in seven years to take over the difficult post. Keystone/Marcel Bieri

The government has appointed a new chief negotiator for talks with the European Union on an umbrella accord with the 27-nation bloc.

This content was published on October 14, 2020 - 16:33
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Livia Leu, currently Swiss ambassador to France and former head of Switzerland’s diplomatic mission to Iran, takes over from state secretary Roberto Balzaretti with immediate effect.

“The decision creates the structural and staffing conditions needed to effectively implement the foreign policy strategy and the next phase of the negotiations with the EU,” Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a news conference on Wednesday.

Cassis said the government would resume talks with Brussels in the next few weeks in an effort to break an impasse on the future of bilateral relations between non-EU Switzerland and its biggest trading partner.

The government has struggled to forge domestic consensus on the treaty negotiated two years ago. The accord has still not been ratified by the government.

State aid, EU citizens' access to Swiss welfare benefits as well as unilateral Swiss rules designed to protect high wages from competition from cross-border workers on temporary assignments have prompted criticism from the political right and trade unions.

However, Swiss voters last month rejected a proposal to tighten immigration curbs from the EU.

Reorganisation

Cassis said the appointment of Leu and the reorganisation of the foreign ministry sent a strong signal to Brussels.

“Europe has been and will remain at the centre of our foreign policy,” he said.

Cassis expected the EU to be open to further talks about a so-called framework agreement with Switzerland. However, it is not clear to what extent Brussels is willing to make further compromises.

Leu has held various posts at the foreign ministry’s headquarters and abroad during her 30-year diplomatic career.

She is the fifth chief negotiator since 2014 for talks on the future of bilateral relations with the EU. She will also be state secretary, formally the number two in the foreign ministry as of next January.

During the news conference, Cassis repeatedly dismissed allegations that he had been forced to give in to pressure from the seven-member government to replace Balzaretti as chief negotiator and state secretary.

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