Swiss call for ’calm and creativity’ to fix EU ties
Swiss President Ignazio Cassis called on Feb. 6 for “calm and creativity” to fix Switzerland’s thorny relations with the European Union.
Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since non-EU member Switzerland suddenly decided in May 2021 to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.
Cassis said that in sorting out Bern’s future relationship with Brussels, Switzerland must get away from “purely technical and institutional questions” and instead focus on matters of content.
“It is only when we have enriched the content, when politics and society recognize the material gains that Switzerland can expect, that an institutional rapprochement will be accepted,” he told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.
Landlocked Switzerland is surrounded by the EU, which is its main economic partner. EU-Swiss ties are currently governed by a patchwork of agreements.
The years of talks on a framework agreement hit an impasse after the EU refused to budge on Swiss demands to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement.
The agreement would also have established a dispute settlement mechanism.
But Switzerland is reluctant to meet EU demands for budget contributions and alignment on European rules as the price to keep free access to the vast EU market.
Cassis said both sides had an interest in regularizing their relations. Switzerland is the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner and 1.4 million EU citizens live in the country of 8.6 million people.
“Unstable relations are not a long-term solution, neither for us nor for the EU,” said Cassis.
Cassis said Switzerland should gravitate closer to Brussels for geopolitical reasons, in a tripolar world of the United States,
Russia with China, and the EU as the third power.
“The pressure on Switzerland to maintain closer ties with Europe will increase. Because the EU is closest to us economically, ideologically and socially,” he said.
However, Cassis said that Bern should stand up to pressure from Brussels for a closer political relationship.
“We cannot simply abandon our principles, take wage protection and immigration lightly and thus jeopardize social peace,” he said.