Switzerland ends treaty talks with the EU

27 May, 2021

By ECCT staff writers

The Swiss government has withdrawn from negotiations with the European Union (EU) over a stalled EU-Swiss framework agreement after years of talks. While Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it has signed up to many of its policies, such as freedom of movement and currently has more than 120 bilateral deals with the EU in place. The just-ended talks had been aimed at replacing the complex web of agreements with a single framework agreement. The EU had intended to rebalance a relationship that allows Switzerland to enjoy far-reaching access to the EU’s single market while remaining outside the bloc’s formal structures. No other countries currently enjoy the same terms.

In citing reasons for its move, the Swiss government has highlighted three issues of contention with the EU: protection of wages, rules governing state aid, and the right of EU citizens working in Switzerland to claim Swiss welfare benefits as part of freedom of movement.

Now that negotiations to achieve a deal have been abandoned, there are worries on both sides that ties between the two sides could be harmed. While the existing network of 120 agreements will not suddenly end, experts have warned that it will gradually weaken as elements become obsolete, are superseded or simply fall away.

Cooperation across a range of essential economic sectors is now at risk. For example, access to the single market for agricultural produce may be hampered as current arrangements will not automatically adapt to new EU rules. Another sector at risk is medical devices, after the two sides failed to agree a deal to extend EU recognition for Swiss-made equipment such as dialysis machines and eye surgery tools that are used across Europe.

Some political analysts had predicted that the current impasse since Switzerland’s current government had threatened to quit the talks previously. Moreover, any deal would also have needed to be approved by a referendum.

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