A senior EU official has admitted that the bloc’s relationship with Switzerland could collapse over trade negotiations.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the EU’s relationship with Switzerland could fall apart if negotiations over Switzerland’s place in the EU internal market fail.
Brussels has pushed for years for a treaty to cap an array of bilateral accords and require the Swiss to routinely adopt changes to single market rules, but talks between the parties broke off in May over concerns about yielding too much sovereignty to the bloc.
EU-Swiss economic ties are currently governed by more than 100 bilateral agreements stretching back to 1972.
Sefcovic’s admission comes less than a year after Britain narrowly rescued months of bitter trade disagreements with the EU with a finalised deal on December 30, 2020, just hours before the final deadline of the Brexit transition period.
‘Should new negotiations not lead to success, the bilateral agreements that were still in force would gradually expire and make our relationship obsolete at some point,’ said Sefcovic, who oversees EU-Swiss affairs, in an interview with Der Spiegel published today.
Switzerland would have to give assurances it would abide by EU internal market rules if Bern is committed to new negotiations, Sefcovic said.
The European Union wants Switzerland to agree to a dynamic alignment of its laws with EU law, a level playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes and regular contributions to EU funds for poorer EU members.
Swiss leadership ultimately decided to walk away from talks in May after a draft deal for a single treaty was met with strong domestic opposition, as many believed the EU was striking too hard a bargain that would deprive Switzerland of trading sovereignty.
The EU had taken a similarly hard stance towards trade talks with Britain for months prior to the final deal being reached last year, with the bloc’s bullish lead negotiator Michel Barnier gaining notoriety for his repeated use of the phrase ‘the clock is ticking’.
The EU ultimately softened its demands in the final month of 2020, though, and ultimately were able to come to an agreement with Britain.
Switzerland is however looking to maintain a close relationship with the EU despite their decision to walk away from the renewed trade talks in May, with Swiss leadership keen to avoid tarnishing links with the bloc.+2
European Union commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said the EU’s relationship with Switzerland could fall apart if negotiations over Switzerland’s place in the EU internal market fail.
Sefcovic reiterated the EU’s demands in the Spiegel interview.
‘We urgently need to know from Switzerland whether it seriously wants to negotiate with us,’ Sefcovic said.
In November, the European Union urged Switzerland to set out a clear timetable for resolving the EU internal market issues by January.
‘We have to know what we want to talk about when – so that it is clear that the discussion will not last 20 or 30 years,’ Sefcovic told Spiegel.
A collapse in relations over time could jeopardise Switzerland’s de facto membership of the EU common market that Bern is keen to maintain, but the Swiss are reluctant to surrender too much control to the EU.
Sefcovic gave the example of medical devices, which can only be sold in the EU with the right certification and that would be impossible without the appropriate contracts.