Outgoing EU Ambassador on the fate of the framework agreement

EU Ambassador to Switzerland Michael Matthiessen heads back to Brussels after four years in the country. Keystone / Dominic Steinmann

Departing European Union Ambassador Michael Matthiessen explains why the EU stands by the free movement of people principle.

This content was published on August 15, 2020 - 14:35

In an interview in the German-language newspaper Neue Zürcher ZeitungExternal link, Matthiessen, who is heading back to Brussels after four years, reflected on the challenges of finalising a framework agreement between the two parties.

Without the framework agreement, the bilateral path is not sustainable in the long-term said Matthiessen. “A framework agreement would make it possible to consolidate the existing agreements, but also to exploit the potential in new fields, such as electricity or digitization.”

One of the main areas of disagreement in the current draft concerns a labour accord that allows unrestricted access to each other’s labour markets. On September 27, the Swiss people will vote on an initiative put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party to suspend the accord on the free movement of people and for Switzerland to take over full control of its immigration policy. 

Matthiessen told the paper that the free movement of peopleExternal link is one of the cornerstones of the EU and its internal market.

When asked whether he thinks the EU would be willing to renegotiate if the people’s initiative were accepted in September, Matthiessen responded: “I wonder if the the electorate is willing to take that risk”.

He added that “accepting the initiative would change our lives significantly, we would have less freedom. And it would have serious consequences for the bilateral agreements and prosperity”.

Good collaboration

Matthiessen praised the way Switzerland and EU states have worked together during the pandemic, specifically with repatriation and supporting healthcare workers and patients.

One area where coordination has been challenging is in the use of contact tracing apps. He noted that EU states have came up with their own mobile apps that now need to be linked.

However, he said that there is no legal basis for Switzerland to participate in the so-called EU gateway because there is no agreement with the EU on health. This means that Swiss people who go on vacation in EU countries would thus far need to download the respective national apps onto their smartphones.

Impact of free movement

Various studies have tried to capture how the free movement of people has impacted Switzerland.

A recent analysis by of government statistics and studies found that immigration has not caused huge unemployment or a drop in wages in Switzerland. Some data also shows that European immigrants have helped to make the Swiss labour market more flexible.

According to economists, ending free movement would cost Switzerland dearly. By 2035, they warn, the country’s GDP would be 3% to 4% lower and would weaken foreign trade. 

Last week, the Swiss People’s Party presented a studyExternal link from the London-based Europe Economics, which concluded that immigration had reduced the country’s economic output from 2002-2017.

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