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Parliament shoots down idea to double EU cohesion payment

The House of Representatives in Bern on Wednesday. Keystone / Peter Schneider

Politicians have rejected a committee idea to raise Switzerland’s “cohesion payment” to the European Union from CHF1 billion to CHF 2 billion ($1.1 billion to $2.2 billion).

This content was published on December 1, 2021 - 13:54
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The plan was proposed by the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives (the larger of the two parliamentary chambers) last week. The idea was to make the double payment conditional on the EU again accepting Swiss participation in various joint programmes, such as the Horizon research scheme and Erasmus+ student exchanges – which Switzerland was frozen out of after breaking off talks on an overarching Swiss-EU framework agreement in May.

The initiators of the idea also said that Switzerland, which benefits substantially from access to the EU’s internal market, could pay more. Norway, also a non-EU member, contributes three times more, Liberal Green politician Tania Moser argued to the NZZ newspaper last week.

On Wednesday however, during general budgetary debates, a majority of parliamentarians rejected the idea. While some leftwing groups, as well as the Liberal Greens, were in favour, opponents claimed it was the wrong approach to easing tensions with Brussels.

Lack of strategy

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said that while the government had been accused of having “no EU strategy”, to simply double the payment would be equally tactless. “Relations with the EU are a bit more complicated than just another cohesion payment. They are a comprehensive political business that require talks, an overall plan, and a common understanding,” Maurer said. Switzerland would be “laughed at” in Brussels with such an initiative, he added.

Parliament voted in favour of unblocking a CHF1 billion cohesion payment in September – a much-debated outcome which was welcomed by the EU. The first time Switzerland approved a cohesion payment, also of CHF1 billion, was over a decade ago. The cohesion payments go towards projects to reduce economic and social inequalities between old and new EU countries.

Following exchanges between Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and his Brussels counterpart Maroš Šefčovič earlier this month, the next big date in Swiss-EU relations is another high-level meeting during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January 2022.

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