Switzerland has dropped out of talks on a closer trade relationship with the European Union despite being offered better terms than the UK in key areas, EU officials said.
On Wednesday, the country’s Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis interrupted long-running discussions with the EU, saying that Berne conditions “were not met.”
Switzerland, although outside the EU, is the bloc’s fourth most important trading partner and its economy is closely integrated with that of the 27 member states. Citizens of Switzerland and EU member states have a mutual right to free movement.
But the Swiss government claimed that it could not accept the EU’s demands to maintain and deepen ties, as they would be rejected in a legally required referendum on a deal.
The two sides have been in talks for seven years on a new framework that would exceed the more than 100 bilateral treaties that govern Switzerland’s access to the single market, but that run the risk of becoming outdated and hampering trade.
The negotiation failed due to Switzerland’s rejection of the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and of a free movement directive that would offer permanent residence to EU citizens, with access to social security granted to non-employed residents, such as the job seekers and students. .
The European Commission has responded publicly by warning of a risk to the “privileged access” that Switzerland enjoys to its markets. Behind the scenes, EU officials said they were not “very surprised” by Bern’s decision, stating that while Brussels had offered to engage “two or three days a week” in talks, the Swiss came “every fortnight. to discuss things. “
But senior EU officials suggested they were puzzled by the Swiss government’s attitude to its demands for “dynamic alignment” with EU law, which is said to be necessary to ensure a “level playing field” for companies in the EU. both sides.
“If you look at the areas where we wanted to align with Switzerland, look at the content of the level playing field that we are trying to establish and compare it to that of the UK, whereas the Swiss have access to the domestic market and the UK does not, the aspect of the level playing field is weaker, ”said an official. “It was actually less than what we were demanding from the UK. Because that did not take into account the environment or taxes or social issues. It focused mainly on state aid. “
On Thursday, Cassis said that parts of the Swiss economy will now need to prepare for the disruption due to the risk of barriers to trade emerging as bilateral agreements failed to keep up with developments. The immediate consequence is the expiration yesterday of the regulatory permits that allow the sale of Swiss-certified medical devices in the EU.
Cassis said: “Of course, there will be a readjustment situation on the part of certain sectors of the industry that will find some difficulties to overcome. The federal council will do everything possible to give them a hand, but it is undeniable that it is an effort that all of Switzerland must make and not just politics ”.
Both the Swiss government and the EU have rejected Brexit comparisons. Some have described the possible breakdown of business ties as a “Swexit.”
However, officials in Brussels said that Swiss suggestions, made since the strike, that the country could align itself with some parts of EU law to maintain access to key sectors, were examples of “selective selection”, a phrase commonly used to describe British positions on the previous five years.
Georg Riekeles, associate director of the think tank at the Center for European Policy in Brussels, said the Swiss decision could prove costly. “Many in Switzerland have not recognized that after Brexit their exorbitant privileges could no longer exist,” he said. “The consequences of your complaint will now be felt quite immediately. Little by little, the economies will be unlinked at a cost for Switzerland estimated at 1,200 million euros per year ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism