Monday

26th Sep 2016

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."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

EU rushing to ratify climate agreement

Environment ministers will try to agree next week to speed up the process to sign up to the Paris agreement. Otherwise it would not be present at the table of the signatories at a conference in November.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  2. HuaweiAn Industry-leading ICT Solution Provider and Building a Better World
  3. World VisionUN Refugees Meeting a Wasted Opportunity to Improve the Lives of Millions of Children
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?
  5. YouthProAktivEntrepreneurship, Proactivity, Innovation - Turn Ideas Into Action #IPS2016
  6. GoogleTrimming the Waste-Line: Weaving Circular Economy Principles Into Our Operations
  7. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeDon't Miss the Mega Conference to Master Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  8. Martens CentreFighting Terrorism: Do we have what it takes? 26 September, Brussels
  9. ACCAKaras Report on Access to Finance for SMEs in a Capital Markets Union
  10. Centre Maurits Coppieters"I still believe we can change Europe" Said David Grosclaude
  11. World VisionThe Child Protection Index to be Launched in Brussels on 28 September 2016
  12. HuaweiDigital Transformation: Unleashing Europe’s Potential