Ex-EU boss laments lack of progress on Swiss framework deal

Jean-Claude Juncker handed over to his successor Ursula von der Leyen in 2019. Keystone / Markus Schreiber

Jean-Claude Juncker says that Switzerland – like the United Kingdom – underestimated the cohesion of EU member states in talks aimed at defining bilateral relations.

This content was published on February 6, 2021 minutes

Luxembourger Juncker, who headed the European Commission from 2014 to 2019, also told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Saturday that the recent Brexit deal should not be seen as a model in Switzerland, which is also currently trying to nail down its relations with the EU.

“The [UK and Swiss] procedures are completely different scenarios,” Juncker said.

He also said, without elaborating, that Switzerland had “tentatively” tried to play EU members states off each other in its strategy. However, this was unsuccessful, said Juncker – as was made clear by the decision of the 27 EU members to revoke Swiss stock market equivalence in 2019.

Juncker also said that during his mandate, he had always had excellent relations with the rotating Swiss presidents, and that the failure to move forward with the framework agreement was due to a Swiss “reluctance to take the remaining steps towards Europe”.

Not clear enough

However, he admitted that the failure to finalise a deal is one of the “black marks” of his mandate, and that he could have done more to present his point of view in Switzerland.

“I should have given more interviews to the Swiss press,” he said. “From today’s perspective, I didn’t clarify the position of the Commission well enough in Switzerland”.

In 2018, after years of talks, Switzerland and the EU concluded a draft version of a framework deal aiming to simplify bilateral relations, which are currently done according to some 20 large sectoral agreements and more than 100 smaller agreements.

Progress stalled following domestic opposition in Switzerland to the terms of the deal, especially the three big sticking points of wage protection measures, state aid rules, and the extent to which EU immigrants can benefit from the Swiss social system.

Tensions now hinge on the Swiss government’s wish to renegotiate these controversial points, while the EU says it is unwilling to substantially reopen discussions.

Juncker told the NZZ he saw “no sensible alternative” to the framework agreement. As for renegotiating it, he said there might be a possibility of “filing away at a corner here and there”.

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