Planned talks between Switzerland and the European Union to rebuild ties have been postponed until the end of October after the federal elections at the request of the Swiss government.
Since March 2022 Switzerland has been conducting exploratory talks with the EU to rebuild long-term ties. At the end of March 2023 the government announced that the key parameters of a negotiating mandate would be drawn up by the end of June.
The phase of exploratory talks was thus due to come to an end, as confirmed by Switzerland’s top negotiator with the EU, Livia Leu, on Tuesday following her meeting with the European Commission in Brussels.
But Swiss public radio RTS reports that Switzerland has now asked for a delay until the end of October, after the federal elections, to conclude the current discussion phase. This is based on a European Commission statement, which also indicated that Brussels acknowledged the Swiss request.
At the end of her meeting in Brussels, Leu gave a positive assessment of relations. “We are at a very different stage today than a year ago,” she declared, adding that it has been possible to re-establish “a relationship of trust” with the EU.
How to consolidate EU-Swiss ties?
Switzerland and Brussels have been at odds over an agreement to consolidate relations following the Swiss government’s decision in May 2021 to abandon years of talksExternal link with the EU on an umbrella accord to complement the more than 120 bilateral agreements.
At the time the government cited a lack of agreement on salary protection, state aid rules, and the access of EU citizens to Swiss social security benefits. Since then, talks have been ongoing to rebuild ties.
Several points must still be clarified, said Leu, in particular three new agreements on electricity, health and food safety. Progress has been made on state aid and immigration, she added.
RTS said Bern and Brussels were currently discussing a negotiating package, including institutional issues, new agreements, the regulation of Switzerland’s participation in EU programmes such as the Horizon Europe research funding scheme and cohesion payments.
Last year Bern proposed a package for new talks that would be based on updating individual sectoral agreements rather than crafting an overarching treaty. The EU says it is open to this sectoral approach, but only “as long as problems are resolved everywhere”.
Leu is due to serve as Swiss state secretary until the end of August and will then become Swiss ambassador to Germany at her own request. The 62-year-old official has been in charge of talks with the EU since autumn 2020.
But according to a report External linkin the SonntagsZeitung newspaper on May 14, Leu left her post as negotiator with the EU as she saw “no chance of getting relations with the EU back on track without again making the concessions that brought down the institutional framework agreement three years ago”.
This claim was based on a note SonntagsZeitung journalists saw from talks in early May between officials from the federal authorities, employers and the cantons.