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Switzerland, EU resume talks to 'deepen' ties

By AFP

March 18, 2024 09:18 PM


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The EU and Switzerland formally kicked off negotiations to deepen ties between the trade partners on Monday despite objections from the Alpine country's main political party.

EU-Swiss ties are currently governed by a patchwork of agreements, and the two have for years been striving to nail down a broader cooperation agreement.

Switzerland suddenly walked away from more than a decade of negotiations in May 2021 after the EU refused to budge on Swiss demands to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement.

After two years of scrambling to pick up the pieces, the negotiations are finally back on track.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Swiss President Viola Amherd launched negotiations in Brussels on Monday on "a broad package of measures to deepen and expand the EU-Switzerland relationship", the European Commission said in a statement.

"Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship with Switzerland based on a renewed trust and engagement between partners and neighbours," von der Leyen said.

The two sides aim to conclude talks this year, the commission said.

So what are the current negotiations about, and how likely are they to succeed? Here is an overview.

 New approach 

The negotiations are aimed at rejigging five major agreements within the patchwork of 120 accords that govern non-EU member Switzerland's relations with the surrounding bloc.

They will try to revise agreements on free movement, industrial standards, agriculture, air and land transport, and to create new ones around electricity, food security and health.

The talks will aim to create more binding modalities for cooperation between the neighbours, including a mechanism for settling disputes.

Swiss financial contributions towards economic and social cohesion in the EU could for instance be made permanent through a legally-binding mechanism, in exchange for access to the bloc's internal market.

Switzerland also wants to ensure its continued participation in EU programmes in the realm of research, training, culture and sport, including Horizon Europe.

  Obstacles 

Negotiations on the different areas will take part in parallel.

Switzerland has said it wanted to conclude the talks this year, but the issue remains highly sensitive in the wealthy Alpine nation, amid concerns over issues of Swiss sovereignty, protection of the wages and the independence of its judiciary.

Switzerland's largest party, the hard-right Swiss People's Party (SVP), is vehemently opposed to a tighter cooperation deal.

It launched a battle last week against the looming negotiations, warning that any such agreement would signal Switzerland's "total subjugation" to the EU.

Approval of a deal could prove difficult in Switzerland, where the final text will likely need to pass the scrutiny of not only the Swiss parliament but also the people, under the country's direct democratic system.

  Close ties 

The EU and Switzerland enjoy strong cross-border links.

The EU is Switzerland's first trading partner, while Switzerland is the fourth largest trading partner for the bloc.

Around 1.5 million EU citizens live in Switzerland, while several hundred thousand EU citizens cross the border daily for work.

Some 450,000 Swiss citizens meanwhile live in the EU.


AFP


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