Switzerland and the European Union should sign an interim agreement to try to save the stalled framework partnership accord aimed at simplifying future ties, says former Swiss diplomat Michael Ambühl.
In an opinion piece in the German-speaking Neue Zürcher Zeitungexternal link on Monday, he said such an interim deal would help existing bilateral relations and avoid aggravating the current situation.
Ambühl, who helped negotiate a series of bilateral accords with Brussels but is now a professor at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), said a temporary deal would stop negative fallout from the stalled negotiations on a framework agreement and allow talks to be postponed calmly to a later date.
Since 2014, Bern and Brussels have been trying to formalise long-term ties in an institutional framework agreement. Relations are presently covered by around 120 separate bilateral accords negotiated since a 1992 referendum when the Alpine state rejected joining the European Economic Area. The proposed overarching agreement covers five of the larger bilateral deals: free movement of people, mutual recognition of industrial standards, agricultural products, air transport, and land transport.
The EU has been pushing Switzerland to wrap up the deal this year, but a draft agreement concluded in 2018 by negotiators from both sides has become entangled in domestic politics, with opposition from both the left and right.
The NZZ article, which was signed by Ambühl and fellow ETHZ professor Daniela Scherer, said a declaration of intent could be drafted under an interim deal, in which the partners would agree to continue to update the existing agreements and Switzerland would refrain from demanding new bilateral agreements.
However, they admitted there was a danger that such a contract could send a signal to Brussels that debate on "real" issues in the framework deal were over.
In Bern, parliament is asking for more time to resolve the differences over wage protection and accompanying measures, state aid and the EU Citizenship Directive. The European Commission has rejected any renegotiation of the agreement and has increased its pressure on Switzerland by not renewing, this summer, the equivalence of the Swiss stock exchange for example.
The Swiss elections in October, the creation of a new European Commission team, Brexit and a Swiss referendum due next year on abolishing free movement of EU citizens have also emerged as obstacles to securing a framework agreement.