Relations between Switzerland and the European Union should not be jeopardised as a whole just because of the uncertainty surrounding the free movement of people, the Swiss ambassador to the EU has told politicians in Brussels.
Speaking on Thursday in front of the EU’s parliamentary committee for an internal market and consumer protection, Roberto Balzaretti said it was now time to develop a common vision for how Swiss-EU relations should look in future.
This should be done, he added, “without us being slowed down by the open questions on the free movement of people”.
Balzaretti said free movement must not be considered in isolation. Instead, a strategy should be chosen “which allows many issues of mutual interest to be built on”.
He pointed to the already intensive relations between Bern and Brussels, but noted that reciprocal access to market was only partial, “since the four freedoms [goods, services, capital and people] are not applied to the same extent in Switzerland as within the EU and the European Economic Area”.
He said that to “strengthen and deepen this bilateral route”, Switzerland accepted that new market agreements could be achieved only with an institutional framework agreement so that the homogeneity of EU law and the functioning of the EU internal market was guaranteed.
Balzaretti said Switzerland was ready, if need be, for a solution proposed by the European Court of Justice, “although Switzerland, as a non-member state, has no influence over EU law”.
On the other hand, Brussels must accept Switzerland’s sovereignty as a non-EU state, he said.
EU parliamentarians didn’t budge. Anne Sander from France stated unequivocally that the EU would stick firmly to the principle of free movement. She also criticised that the free movement of people accord would not be extended to Croatia.
Nicola Danti from Italy said: “If you enter into a deal, you have to fulfil your obligations. That applies to Switzerland too.”
Kristin Schreiber, director of governance of the single market, turned to metaphor: “You can’t join a game of football but then say you don’t want the offside rule.”
swissinfo.ch and agencies