Switzerland: Reporter discusses collapse of EU trade talks
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The European Union’s relationship with Switzerland could fall apart if negotiations over the country’s place in the EU internal market fail, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, told Der Spiegel magazine.
Brussels has pushed for years for a treaty to cap an array of bilateral accords and require the Swiss to routinely adopt changes to single market rules.
Talks between Bern and its biggest trading partner broke off in May over concerns about yielding too much sovereignty to the bloc.
Mr Sefcovic, who oversees EU-Swiss affairs, said: “The EU’s relationship with Switzerland is in danger of disintegrating.
“Should new negotiations not lead to success, the bilateral agreements that were still in force would gradually expire and make our relationship obsolete at some point.”
Switzerland would have to give assurances it would abide by EU internal market rules if Bern is committed to new negotiations, Sefcovic said.
The European Union wants Switzerland to agree to a dynamic alignment of its laws with EU law, a level playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes and regular contributions to EU funds for poorer EU members.
Sefcovic reiterated the EU’s demands in the Spiegel interview.
He added: “We urgently need to know from Switzerland whether it seriously wants to negotiate with us.”
In November, the European Union urged Switzerland to set out a clear timetable for resolving the EU internal market issues by January.
Sefcovic told Spiegel: “We have to know what we want to talk about when – so that it is clear that the discussion will not last 20 or 30 years.”
EU-Swiss economic ties are governed by more than 100 bilateral agreements stretching back to 1972.
A collapse in relations over time could jeopardise Switzerland’s de facto membership of the EU common market that Bern is keen to maintain.
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Sefcovic gave the example of medical devices, which can only be sold in the EU with the right certification and that would be impossible without the appropriate contracts.
Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis claimed the EU Commissioner had misrepresented a meeting the pair had last month in a failed bid to restart bilateral trade talks.
Sefcovic told reporters after the meeting that the EU’s door remained open, but that “it takes two to tango”.
Responding to Mr Cassis’ criticism, the EU Commissioner told Politico: “I think I was absolutely fair in describing what we discussed in our private meeting.”
Cassis has already made it clear that he would hardly be able to present the EU with a concrete plan until the pair next meets in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
One of the earlier impacts of the negotiation impasse has been on Swiss scientists’ participation in the Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research and innovation funding programmes with a budget of 95 billion euros.
Sefcovic said Swiss researchers and institutions could continue to participate, but they would not be able to access EU taxpayers’ money until other issues are resolved.
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