August 3, 2021

Switzerland slams the door to negotiations with the European Union

An immense twist, and a radical decision, in the usually hushed world of relations between Switzerland and the EU, a genuine diplomatic sea serpent for three decades. On Wednesday 26 May, three of the seven federal advisers announced in Bern that the government was putting an immediate end to the difficult discussions with the European Commission on the institutional “framework agreement” put on the table by Brussels in 2018 in order to standardize on long-term relations between Switzerland and the Twenty-Seven.

Non-member of the EU, non-member of the European Economic Area (to which Norway and Iceland belong), Switzerland benefits thanks to bilateral agreements of almost all the rights granted to the Member States of the Union . Currently governed by more than a hundred bilateral agreements, these links are too complex and above all they are no longer adapted to the development of Community law.

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“There is no question of getting angry with Europe, said Guy Parmelin, the President of the Confederation in office this year, on public radio RTS. The Federal Council, considering that essential interests are at stake, decided, after weighing up interests, that the risk of this agreement failing before the people was too great. “ Clearly, the executive says it wants to avoid disallowance in the event of a popular referendum – to which Swiss direct democracy would have exposed it if it had continued and concluded negotiations with the Commission.

Populist relief

The argument seems a little short to all those who believe that the government should have persevered to overcome the differences, with the objective of then “selling” the treaty obtained to its public opinion. “We have had insulting behavior towards the European Union. We made him wait, we made him believe things, and today some EU members are outraged by this behavior », Says François Gabella, vice-president of Swissmem, the employers’ organization of the machinery industry, a large export sector that the deterioration of relations between Switzerland and the EU could threaten. First question: access to the single market for Swiss companies. Guaranteed without restrictions so far, it will shrink as current agreements, some very old, lapse in the absence of a new institutional architecture.

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Unlike a part of the liberal right close to business circles and pro-European Greens, the populist right-wing party UDC, still the country’s leading formation, but in retreat in recent years, welcomed Wednesday to this spectacular interruption of negotiations. “The Federal Council has finally assumed its responsibilities, welcomed the Geneva MP Céline Amaudruz (UDC). It is a huge relief: this decision respects our democracy and our sovereignty, not to mention all that this agreement would have cost. The European Union will no doubt want to retaliate, but this shows it that Switzerland does not submit to diktats. ”

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