Swiss abandon EU treaty efforts amid fears over social costs of EU migration

After years of talks, and a relationship that dates back to 1972, Switzerland has abandoned efforts aimed at agreeing an over-arching treaty with the EU.

Switzerland is not in the European Union but has signed up to many of its policies - the EU-Switzerland free trade agreement dates back to 1972 - and the country has been a part of the Schengen Zone - allowing for free movement of people - since 2005.

The European Commission said that without an EU-Swiss framework agreement, modernising the current relationship would not be possible: existing deals were "not up to speed" and the impact of Switzerland's decision would have to be analysed, it warned.

Sticking points on the Swiss side are protection of wages, rules governing state aid, and the right of the 1.4 million EU citizens currently working in Switzerland, and others, including refugees and economic migrants, to claim Swiss welfare benefits as part of freedom of movement.

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (pictured) said Switzerland could not accept EU demands for equal rights for EU workers as it would have meant an unwanted "paradigm shift" in Switzerland's migration policy. The government also feared it could lead to higher social security costs.

The existing deals will eventually go out of date, and Switzerland will not have access to a potential electricity union or other areas of the single market that change.

However, one bilateral deal, trade in medical technology products, lapsed earlier this week.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) welcomed the breakdown of talks as "a victory for Swiss self-determination", while trade unions were also pleased as they had been concerned about the impact on wage protection and public services.

Most political parties in Switzerland were critical, with Socialist Party leader Roger Nordmann describing it as "Black Wednesday”.

Swiss confederation President Guy Parmelin rejected the term "Black Wednesday" and said he hoped for a fruitful "reset in our relations", adding that Switzerland and the EU remained first-class partners. Even without a treaty, it was in their shared interests to maintain their "proven bilateral approach", he said.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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