8th Dec 2023

EU tells Switzerland: 'It takes two to tango'

  • EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič (r) welcoming Swiss federal foreign minister Ignazio Cassis in his office (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU called on Monday (15 November) on Switzerland to set out a timetable, and show willingness to agree on a framework accord, to manage its relationship with Brussels.

"It takes two to tango," said EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, after meeting Swiss federal foreign minister Ignazio Cassis.

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The talks are meant to restart dialogue, after Switzerland suddenly broke off negotiations with the EU, its biggest trading partner, in May.

Back then, the EU's state-aid rules, and issues around freedom of movement (such as access to welfare system and fears around defending high Swiss wages) were blamed by Bern for the rupture in talks.

The EU and Switzerland have been working on-and-off on an overarching agreement to replace a patchwork on bilateral agreements for the past 13 years.

"What we now need from Switzerland is the unambiguous political will to engage with us on the real issues that count and a credible timetable," Šefčovič, who is also the EU's top man for relations with the fellow non-EU UK, said.

"Any political dialogue must be focused and substantial," he added.

"We will meet again in Davos in the second half of January to assess the progress. By then, we will see whether a true political commitment is there," Šefčovič said.

The EU wants Switzerland to agree to dynamic alignment of its laws to evolving EU laws, a level-playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes, and regular contributions to EU funds for the bloc's cohesion funds.

As a sign of goodwill, the Swiss parliament in September gave the green light to the disbursement of more than €1.2bn in cohesion funds, even though the issue is politically controversial at home.

Šefčovič welcomed that move as "positive", but warned that the payment dates back to 2012.

He said there is a need for regular financial contributions in the future from Switzerland.

Around 1.4 million EU citizens live in Switzerland, according to EU statistics, and some 340,000 people commute to Switzerland from the EU to work.

The commission vice-president argued that every country participating in the EU's single market has to "abide by the same rules and obligations".

Šefčovič said he hoped for "substantial progress" next year in negotiations.

One of the consequences of breaking off talks in May was on Switzerland's participation in the EU's research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, with a budget of €95bn.

Šefčovič said Swiss researchers and institutions could continue to participate in the programme, but they would not be able to access EU taxpayers' money until the issues are resolved.

Last month, Switzerland released funding to support Swiss research projects that have been part of the Horizon Europe programme.

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