Seco head says EU talks are two-way street

The European Union needs to see Switzerland as a “special case” in its bilateral relations, the head of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) has said.

This content was published on March 25, 2012 - 15:58 and agencies

In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch described the European Commission’s recent frustration with future trade talks with Switzerland as an “EU tactic” that aimed to portray Bern as wanting to take advantage of the European market without giving anything back.

Swiss ministers were in Brussels this week and offered to put forward proposals in the coming weeks on finding a way through the impasse that would be acceptable to both Switzerland and the EU. EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso is understood to have said a single model for all future agreements was necessary.

But Ineichen-Fleisch said Switzerland wasn’t the only party that needed to make concessions. “The EU also must take a step towards Switzerland. If only one side makes a move, the talks will fail.”

Switzerland was unique, she said, as it was neither a member of the EU or the European Economic Area, nor was it a regular non-member. More European citizens find work in Switzerland than vice versa and the EU has a “major interest” in ensuring smooth trade with Bern, she said, citing the EU trade surplus with Switzerland.

Switzerland has concluded 20 major bilateral agreements with the bloc. There are also about 100 secondary bilateral accords between Bern and Brussels.

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