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Bilateral talks reach stalemate

Bern and Brussels are at loggerheads over issues like taxing savings and banking secrecy Keystone Archive

Switzerland and the European Union (EU) have hit a stumbling block over how to proceed with negotiations on a second set of bilateral agreements.

Following a meeting between senior officials from the Swiss government and the EU on Monday, both sides said it was up to the other to ensure that progress can be made.

The meeting came less than a week after the Swiss government gave the green light for negotiations on ten key issues to proceed.

“The ball is now in the EU’s court,” said Swiss Ambassador, Michael Ambühl, head of relations with the EU. The government has done “its homework” and is ready to restart talks, he told reporters.

For its part, Brussels said it was waiting for “a gesture” from Bern on the question of tackling customs fraud. The chief European negotiator, Percy Westerlund, called on Monday for an immediate start to talks on taxation of savings.

At odds

The two sides are not only at odds over the timing of the negotiations, which include customs fraud, the taxation of savings, liberalising services and cooperation on asylum and security.

Bern and Brussels also disagree over which issues should be tackled first.

Switzerland believes the ten items on the agenda should be addressed simultaneously, in order to achieve a package of balanced accords.

Westerlund meanwhile stressed that the issue of taxing savings should be negotiated separately and it was not “necessary” to link it with the rest of the dossier.

Banking secrecy

Westerlund said Brussels was also waiting for a better offer from Switzerland concerning negotiations on combating cross-border crime and customs fraud.

These issues are among the most sensitive because they could threaten Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws, which the Swiss government is not prepared to give up.

No rush

The Swiss “are in no rush” to start full negotiations, Ambühl said. They have made comprehensive talks dependent on Brussels approving the mandate for four outstanding issues, including cooperation on security and asylum.

Bern is also looking to the EU to finally put into force a first set of bilateral treaties, which have already been accepted by Swiss voters and ratified by all EU national parliaments.

Despite the apparent impasse, Swiss officials said further talks with the EU on procedural matters would take place in the next few weeks.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR