Saturday

3rd Dec 2022

EU looking to reset relations with Switzerland

  • Swiss watches were among the first priorities in Bern's relations with the EU (Photo: Andy2580)

With new institutions and powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is looking to reset its relations with Switzerland, currently governed by 120-odd agreements covering everything from wrist watches to borderless travelling.

"We examined the state of our bilateral relations ... and looked at how to renew them in the future, based on sound legal and political foundations," EU council president Herman Van Rompuy said at a joint press conference with the Swiss president, Doris Leuthard.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Mr Van Rompuy said the reset had to be based on Bern accepting the "evolution" of EU law, in contrast to the current situation, when nothing is adopted automatically by the Swiss side.

"The EU position is that this is not the way to continue. With 120 bilateral agreements in place, imagine the whole bureaucracy when you need to change one paragraph," one EU official familiar with the talks told this website.

Some 60 "working groups" on specific issues covered by these agreements – ranging from the wrist watch industry to transport, border control and fight against fraud – currently meet twice a year, separately and with little exchange amongst each other.

Ms Leuthard, switching from English into German and French, said that Switzerland too recognises the need to simplify the complex architecture of bilateral agreements. She stressed, however, that the new legal basis had to be "clean, but in respect of our sovereignty."

One offer made to the Swiss is a "European Economic Area Lite", alluding to the current agreement with Norway, also a non-EU member who is fully integrated into the bloc's internal market and border-free Schengen area, but who unlike Bern automatically adopts any change to the EU laws.

Yet in a country where direct democracy is so deeply rooted that almost every decision is taken by referendum, the idea to adopt such legal "automatism" is unacceptable.

Swiss voters already rejected in 1992 the country's accession to the EEA, precisely out of fear of losing sovereignty to Brussels, which is often criticised for its democratic deficit.

"Switzerland is against adopting EU laws automatically, using the argument that it is a sovereign country. But the EU says that as long as we are part of the internal market, we have to play by the book," Jean Russotto, a Brussels-based Swiss lawyer specialised in EU law and regulatory compliance told Euobserver.

Another taboo subject for the Swiss public is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which has the ultimate say if a country infringes EU law. If Switzerland adopted the legislation automatically, it could, in theory be taken to the Luxembourg court by the European Commission in cases of non-compliance.

"This would be a problem," says Mr Russotto. "The no-vote in 1992 was strongly influenced by the perspective of 'foreign judges' having a say in the country. The situation has not changed very much since, although we've adopted a lot of EU aquis (legislation), but it was done by our own parliament, not automatically."

A compromise solution could be found, however, as it is the case for Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland – which form the EEA. In their case, there is a special court based in Luxembourg and confusingly named the EFTA court after the European Free Trade Agreement which also includes Switzerland. The EFTA court, however, has no jurisdiction over the Alpine country. In an odd twist, the chief judge of the EFTA court, Carl Baudenbacher, is Swiss, but representing Liechtenstein.

Parliament

On top of the existing differences over a potential over-arching agreement, a new actor on the EU side is likely to complicate negotiations: the European Parliament.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU legislature has the power to strike down any international agreements negotiated by the EU commission.

It already put EU-US relations on freeze for while when it vetoed a deal on bank data transfers for anti-terrorism purposes, citing privacy concerns.

"We want to deepen our relationship with the European Parliament," Ms Leuthard said. "It is very important to involve parliaments, because they decide ultimately on the agreements and their content," she added.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

French official accused of conflict over EU fish lobby job

A senior French official is being accused of conflicts of interest for spearheading a leading role in Europeche, a fishing-industry lobby group based in Brussels. The hire comes as the EU Commission threatens a lawsuit against France over fishing.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  2. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  3. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  4. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  5. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  6. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  7. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  8. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us