A recent referendum result was heralded as a great confidence boost for the European Union. But beneath the surface all is not well between Switzerland and the giant on its doorstepby Clare O'Dea / October 1, 2020 / Leave a comment
On the surface, Swiss voters have given a resounding endorsement to continued close relations with the European Union. By rejecting the Swiss People’s Party proposal to end the free movement of people by 61.7 per cent, they have signalled their acceptance of the status quo of the last two decades.
The EU has taken encouragement from this positive message, but the reprieve may be short-lived. The United Kingdom is not the only country that urgently has to restructure its relationship with the EU.
Now that the free movement vote is safely out of the way, the real debate on the future relationship has taken off in Switzerland. In recent days, renewed objections to the government’s wider negotiated compromise with Brussels have been voiced right across the political spectrum.
At issue is the so-called institutional framework agreement, negotiated by the Swiss government with the EU between 2014 and 2018, and designed to streamline the existing set of agreements. Bogged down in a national consultation phase, it has yet to be ratified by the Swiss parliament.
Switzerland’s dealings with the EU are currently governed by a web of more than 20 main bilateral agreements and around 100 other agreements, under which Switzerland has agreed to incorporate certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for preferential access to the single market.
The main bilateral accords were negotiated in two bundles between 1994 and 1999, and 2002 and 2004 respectively. Under the Swiss direct democracy system, the substantial issues were approved by popular vote.
These agreements are currently managed through a structure of 20 joint committees. The ongoing effect of the agreements obliges Switzerland to adopt EU legislation in the relevant sectors. But ensuring that Swiss law catches up takes a lot of manpower and time.
EU laws change constantly. Up to now, Switzerland has adopted these changes pretty much verbatim but only after putting them through its own legislative process.
This leads to a delay, during which Swiss companies have access to the single market without having to comply with all the rules—potentially a competitive advantage.
Under the new framework agreement, Switzerland would automatically adopt the latest version of EU law in the relevant sectors, cutting out this delay. The traditional anti-EU camp in Switzerland is crying foul at this perceived loss of sovereignty.
They also object to the structure…