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There is some movement in the relationship between Switzerland and the EU

In May 2021, the Swiss government broke off negotiations with the EU on an institutional framework agreement. Switzerland prefers to continue along the bilateral path. The EU initially reacted in a huff – among other things, it removed Switzerland from the list of associated states in the Horizon Europe research programme.

Since then, Switzerland and the EU have come closer again in exploratory talks. The EU basically agrees with the package approach proposed by Switzerland. Nevertheless, from Switzerland’s point of view, many questions remain unanswered.

SWI swissinfo.ch: The Federal Council wants to continue with exploratory talks, whereas the EU thinks it’s enough now. Where does Switzerland want to gain more? 

Livia Leu: There is some movement in the relationship between Switzerland and the EU. We have been holding exploratory talks since the end of March. These relate to the package approach proposed by Switzerland, so they contain various elements. 

On the one hand, there are institutional issues which are very close to the EU’s heart. For us, it is important that the package approach provides for an extension of the bilateral path, i.e. additional agreements, but also the safeguarding of programme cooperation – keyword Horizon Europe. 

So far, we have worked out a clearer understanding with each other in various areas of where we are headed. But there are still unanswered questions. That is why the process continues.

SWI: So is it true that the Federal Council expects binding assurances from the EU on wage protection and immigration before it even wants to negotiate?

L.L.: These are certainly very important topics where we will go into more depth so we can understand each other properly. 

But one must not forget: these are exploratory talks. They are not yet negotiations. And in this sense, no legally binding concessions are possible yet; that would only be possible in a next step – namely in negotiations. 

But you can, of course – if you go more in depth – work out a better understanding of where the zone is that you need to find yourself in.

SWI: According to the Federal Council’s report, the EU is apparently prepared to make concessions to Switzerland. Which ones? 

L.L.: In the area of freedom of movement, Switzerland and the EU have been holding discussions for a very long time. For example, on issues of wage protection, but also on immigration. 

Today, we are going much deeper into this. For example, the so-called EU Citizens’ Rights Directive used to be excluded from the discussions altogether; today, it is being looked at more closely in order to understand where there are problems and where we have to safeguard Switzerland’s essential interests – for example, with exceptions.

SWI: Why is there less reliance on the “Friends of Switzerland” than before?

L.L.: Switzerland has very good relations with the EU member states, especially with its neighbours. President Ignazio Cassis has visited many of them in his presidential year. He was just recently with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and Sergio Mattarella [Italy’s president, CoR] was just in Switzerland on a state visit. So relations are good and close. And of course, that helps to build trust, also with regard to Switzerland’s position in Europe.

We certainly receive support from our neighbours. For example, both Germany and Austria have supported our association with Horizon Europe. But when all is said and done, they are not the ones who conduct the talks or apply the treaties; the European Commission does that.

SWI: If rifts open up within the EU, for example because of the energy crisis or the Ukraine war, can Switzerland capitalise on them?

L.L.: First of all: Nobody benefits from this war, not even Switzerland. But what this war has achieved is that the countries of Europe have moved closer together and a deeper understanding of our community of values has emerged, which of course includes Switzerland.

This war of aggression has led to a certain dynamism within Europe, for example with the first meeting of the ‘European Political Community’. 

One also sees that the EU has actively reopened the question of the Balkan states joining the union. There is more dynamic in the way people want to cooperate with each other.

SWI: And how does this affect Switzerland?

L.L.: For example, the federal president was present at the meeting of the ‘European Political Community’ in Prague. 

This new initiative is a very interesting option for us, that is to work with all the countries in Europe without having a specific framework. In any case, it is still a very young and open entity.

SWI: So then you would agree that the Ukraine war and the energy crisis have made the EU issue more dynamic for Switzerland, or at least given it some movement?

L.L.: Well, you may remember, the Federal Council adopted its proposals for a package approach with the EU before the Russian attack on Ukraine. So it’s not that the Federal Council decided to jump into action because of the war.
No, following the conclusion of the negotiations on an institutional framework agreement, the Federal Council intensively addressed the question of how we want to continue along the bilateral path. The EU was awaiting proposals from us. And the Federal Council adopted these proposals on February 23 – one day before the outbreak of war.

Source: Swissinfo



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