Tuesday

10th Dec 2019

EU to Switzerland: 'Where are we going with this relationship?'

  • The EU's relationship with Switzerland is not a finely tuned machine (Photo: Andy2580)

European Union foreign ministers have issued a tough-worded warning to Switzerland that its relationship with the bloc is dysfunctional and must be radically changed.

There is no overarching framework for the relationship between the EU and the mountainous republic situated in the middle of the bloc but unbendingly outside its strictures. Instead, the two have a series of some 120 sector-by-sector agreements, a situation the EU foreign ministers on Tuesday described as "unwieldy", "inconsistent" and "incoherent."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The long-soured relationship between the two sides has "clearly reached its limits," they said in a report, and hinted that Bern's intransigence threatened access to the EU market.

Fed up with the sectoral approach, the bloc is demanding a robust, overarching agreement between the two sides.

In essence, they suggested that it is time for Switzerland to decide whether it wants closer integration with the bloc or to be cast out into the market-access wilderness.

Stressing that they still respected Switzerland's sovereignty, the ministers nevertheless said that they have "come to the conclusion that while the present system of bilateral agreements has worked well in the past, the challenge of the coming years will be to go beyond this complex system, which is creating legal uncertainty and has become unwieldy to manage and has clearly reached its limits."

The ministers said that coming up with agreements covering different sectors on an ad hoc basis had been of "mutual interest" initially, but had over the years "turned into ... a highly complex set of multiple agreements."

Without "efficient arrangements" to ensure Switzerland adopts EU law, including case law set down by European Court of Justice rulings, and enforcement of this law, the European single market, which Switzerland has access to, lacks the "necessary homogeneity," said the ministers.

In other words, some Swiss law is more favourable to Swiss companies or individuals than it is to other Europeans.

Specifically, the ministers said they were "very concerned" about Switzerland's cantonal tax systems that they say amount to subsidies that favour domestic firms and encourage firms to set up shop in the country rather than elsewhere. They want such preferential rules abolished.

The bloc wants the country to crack down on tax evasion and fraud.

The EU is also concerned that Switzerland is not consistently applying rules on the free movement of people, particularly rules that require individuals to provide prior notification before arriving and an eight-day waiting period.

The European Commission on behalf of the bloc is currently engaged in talks with Bern over many of these concerns, but it is understood they are not proceeding well.

In September, the Swiss Federal Council insisted that the bilateral, sectoral approach remain the limit of relations between the two sides.

Swiss army prepares for euro unrest

The Swiss army is preparing for possible internal civil unrest and refugees from euro-countries as the economic crisis drags on.

Human rights abusers to face EU blacklists

Human rights abusers worldwide will, in future, face EU asset freezes and travel bans under new-model sanctions agreed by foreign ministers in Brussels.

News in Brief

  1. Russia plans 'Arctic Air Defence" with S-400 missiles
  2. Belgium: King does another round of consultations
  3. Thousands protest Orban's theatre clampdown
  4. Russia and Ukraine agree ceasefire by new year
  5. US deploys biggest army to Europe in years for training
  6. New 100km/h speed limit on Brussels ring road planned
  7. Orban wants bill to tighten grip over theatres
  8. Dutch reduce terror threat level for first time since 2013

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us