Swiss scrap talks with EU on cooperation deal

2021-05-27 15:00:38 GMT2021-05-27 23:00:38(Beijing Time) Sina English


Switzerland's national flag and the European Union flag

Switzerland on Wednesday called off years of talks with the European Union aimed at sealing a cooperation agreement with Bern's largest trading partner, in a move which angered Brussels.

Brussels and Bern have spent more than a decade discussing a so-called framework deal, which would rejig five major agreements within a patchwork of 120 accords that govern non-EU member Switzerland's relations with the surrounding bloc.

But Swiss President Guy Parmelin said that the 13 years of talks had hit the end of the road, in a move which could jeopardize relations with the EU, which had made no secret of its impatience to nail down a deal.

Parmelin went to Brussels in late April for talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, but the pair made no headway on resolving a range of sticking points.

The two sides hit an impasse after the EU refused to budge on demands from Parmelin to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement from the pact.

In a statement, Switzerland's Federal Council government said it reviewed the outcome of those talks on Wednesday.

"There remain substantial differences between Switzerland and the EU on key aspects," it said.

"The conditions are thus not met for the signing of the agreement."

The move brings the negotiations to a close, the statement said.

There is concern that failing to secure the framework deal might rock Switzerland's relationship with the EU.

Around half of all Swiss exports go to the bloc, which all but surrounds the landlocked country, while two-thirds of Switzerland's imports are from the EU.

Among other points, the ditched agreement covered access to the single market and fine-tuning applicable Swiss and EU laws.

Regrettable decision

The overarching deal would have required revising the agreements on free movement, industrial standards, agriculture, air and land transport – and the creation of a joint arbitration court that could settle differences and enable compensation for breaches.

Since 2008, the EU has insisted Switzerland must sign the agreement before concluding any new bilateral deals, with negotiations getting underway in 2014.

For Brussels, those talks concluded in 2018, but the Swiss continued to press for changes and repeatedly put off signing.

The European Commission hit out at Bern's move. It said the EU-Swiss Institutional Framework Agreement was essential for an enhanced future bilateral relationship.

"We regret this decision, given the progress that has been made," the bloc's executive body said, adding the deal's core purpose was "fundamentally a matter of fairness and legal certainty."

"Privileged access to the Single Market must mean abiding by the same rules and obligations."