Switzerland in not a member of the EU. However, via a series of deals it operates to a large extent as a member would. Brussels put pressure on Switzerland to replace these deals with a single agreement giving Switzerland less wiggle room. In May 2021, Switzerland said no to the deal on the table. On Wednesday, Switzerland’s government announced it was aiming for a negotiating mandate with the EU by the end of this year, reported RTS.
Based on its own internal work and exploratory discussions with the EU, Switzerland’s Federal Council said that it has decided to put together a negotiating mandate that it will develop with input from parliamentary commissions and cantonal governments. Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) will lead the work and the Swiss government has informed the European Commission of its decision.
The decision was expected and follows technical discussions that restarted in April 2022 following the breakdown of negotiations in May 2021.
New agreements are being sought on electricity, food and health security, financial regulation, transport and participation in EU programmes, Horizon Europe in particular, which has been on ice since 2021. A sensitive topic is the functioning of the agreement of free movement of citizens.
Not everyone is pleased by the recent decision. Swiss unions are opposed to liberalisation of the public sector, an EU requirement. They are also concerned about Swiss workers being exposed to greater competition from lower cost EU workers, a possible result of any deal reached.
The timing is tight. Parliamentary commissions cannot get started on the work before January next year. And the European Commission hopes to conclude negotiations between now and next summer in advance of the expiration of its own mandate in autumn next year.