Swiss-EU talks stall due to ‘substantial differences’

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen (right) and Swiss President Guy Parmelin in Brussels on Friday Keystone / Francois Walschaerts / Pool

Talks on future ties between Switzerland and the European Union have once again hit a dead end, with Swiss President Guy Parmelin saying that “substantial differences” remain between the two sides.

This content was published on April 23, 2021 minutes

Parmelin and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen held much-anticipated discussions in Brussels on Friday morning in the hope of breaking a negotiating stalemate over an overarching framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU.

Switzerland has demanded that state aid, labour rules and citizens' rights are struck from a draft agreement that was drawn up in 2018. But the EU has refused.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting Parmelin said that Switzerland could not sign the deal as it is but added that the two sides would remain in contact.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it does have a set of bilateral agreements with it. Currently both sides are trying to finalise an institutional “framework agreement” aimed at simplifying future ties between the two sides.

EU keeps its line

A Commission spokesman said that the draft agreement of 2018 should stand. “We did hear the reservations from Switzerland on the three well-known subjects," the spokesman told reporters at a separate news conference.

The Swiss have concerns over state aid rules, foreign workers who could undercut Swiss pay and EU citizens' access to Swiss social benefits. Bern has suggested these should be "carved out" of the agreement, the spokesman said, which was "simply not acceptable to the EU side".

However, the EU's door remained open, the spokesman said.

Hopes and frustrations

Ahead of the talks, both Parmelin and von der Leyen had expressed hopes that there would be a way out of the impasse. These sentiments were echoed by former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview with the Swiss media published on Thursday evening.

However, last week Brussels expressed its frustration at Switzerland in a leaked briefing, accusing it of time-wasting and failing to take responsibility in finding a solution.

Reports say that failure to strike a deal would block Switzerland from any new access to the single market, such as an electricity union. Existing accords will also erode over time, such as on cross-border trade in medical products.

Parmelin did not directly answer a journalist’s question on what would happen should there be no framework agreement, saying only that Switzerland would remain in contact with the EU and would observe the situation.

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