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Switzerland works closely with the EU and the relationship is based on trade relations governed by a series of separately negotiated agreements. In return, Switzerland gains access to the EU’s single market. The cornerstone of EU-Swiss relations is the Free Trade Agreement of 1972. But the partnership is not without constant pressure from Brussels to replace the separate deals with one single agreement. Something which thus far, has not happened.

But the status quo may be set to change soon. On 15 December 2023, Switzerland’s Federal Council approved a draft negotiating mandate with the EU.  As soon as the EU and Swiss government officially approve the mandate, new negotiations will begin.

 

According to the Swiss government, the new draft mandate – which comes out of around 70 meetings with the EU at all levels – satisfies the pre-conditions to re-start negotiations. Some of the new agreements targeted of the mandate include talks on:

  • Electricity
  • Food safety
  • Health

More importantly however, it stipulates an agreement on the systematic participation in EU programs including regular cohesion contributions to the EU. The cost of these remains open however. 

 

 

The newly proposed stance is to integrate institutional questions into individual internal market agreements.

  • These will cover:
    • the free movement of people
    • land transport
    • air transport
    • technical barriers to trade and agriculture
  • In addition, an electricity agreement is to be negotiated. This is an interesting point as Switzerland has only recently announced that it will continue to use Nuclear energy for longer than previously signalled.

 

A further important point is that the scope of influence of the EU Court of Justice will be narrower. And the so called “super guillotine clause,” has been removed. This stated that  if any of the seven treaties were terminated, then all of the treaties were automatically terminated. The new mandate instead now refers to  “proportional compensation measures”.

Switzerland’s foreign minister, Mr Ignazio Cassis commented that the Federal Council felt that a new approach was needed after the previous talks were broken off in May 2021. This especially as no solutions could be found at the time in the important areas of free movement of persons, wage protection and state aid. And Mr. Cassis also stated that although Switzerland and the EU have come a long way, everything can be discussed again from both sides, as many open points are about small details.

The draft mandate is now being finalised with input from parliament and cantonal governments. The final negotiating mandate should be available in two to three months once this process is completed. On the EU side, the EU Commission still has to approve the draft mandate.

 

 

Finally, one of the bigger additional questions still open is whether Switzerland can rejoin the Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programs in 2024 as a result of the negotiations. Britain recently rejoined the Horizon program at a reported cost of €2.6 billion per year for access to the scheme. Both the UK and Switzerland were kicked out of the lucrative program for separate reasons. Will Switzerland also have to pay to rejoin? Time will tell. We wish everyone a Merry Festive Season and a Happy 2024!

 

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