European policy: Next steps - Message to Parliament submitted on the continuation and extension of the free movement of persons; mandate decided on the agricultural and food sectors and health care
Bern, 14.03.2008 - The Federal Council has decided on the future direction of Switzerland’s policy on the European Union. Priority is to be given to the systematic implementation of existing bilateral agreements with a focus on the decisions to pursue the free movement of persons after 2009 and on the extension of this agreement to Bulgaria and Romania. Today, the Federal Council has submitted a Message to Parliament to this effect. In addition, it has signalled a special interest in closer cooperation with the EU in a number of other areas. It has approved a mandate to commence negotiations on the agricultural and food sectors as well as on health care with a proviso for the results of the consultations of the parliamentary committees and the cantons. Preparations will continue in four other fields, i.e. in emissions trading, the satellite-aided navigation system Galileo, cooperation with the European Defence Agency, and peace promotion.
The implementation and continual adaptation of the existing bilateral agreements is the top priority of Swiss policy on the European Union, especially the continuation and the extension of the Swiss-EU Agreement on the freedom of movement of persons. The Agreement makes it easier both for citizens of EU countries to enter the Swiss job market and live in Switzerland as well as for Swiss citizens wishing to live and work in the EU. It improves the recruitment opportunities for companies and contributes to economic growth. Jobs will not only be created but also made more secure. In addition, through the consistent development and extension of the Agreement, Switzerland is consolidating its bilateral agreements with the EU and in this way facilitating access to the EU market of 490 consumers.
As emerged from the consultations, the cantons and an overwhelming majority of political parties and associations share the fundamentally positive assessments of the Federal Council concerning the continuation of the free movement of persons as well as the extension of the Agreement to Bulgaria and Romania. Today, the Federal Council has submitted both bills in a combined Message to Parliament with the recommendation that they be approved.
Mandate to start negotiations on the agricultural and food sectors, and health care
The Federal Council would like to deepen cooperation with the EU in a number of other specific areas. In the electricity sector, the current negotiations on regulating electricity transit and trading will be pursued with aim of increasing the security of electricity supplies in a liberalised market environment. Today, the Federal Council has approved a joint mandate to negotiate free trade in agricultural products and food as well as in the health sector. These areas overlap on the issue of food safety and for this reason must be negotiated in close coordination. The next step will be to submit for consultations the mandate to the Committees of the National Council and the Council of States, as well as to the cantons.
- In the areas of agricultural products and food, both tariff barriers (customs duties and quotas) and non-tariff barriers (regulations on products) are expected to be eliminated, not only in agriculture but also in the pre- and post-production stages, i.e. products used in food production, processing, the food industry, and trade. This opening up of the markets is expected to lower consumer prices and create growth estimated in billions of Swiss francs. Swiss farmers will become more competitive on international markets as a result of lower production costs and better market access. However, free-trade would have to be introduced on a step-by-step basis together with accompanying support measures to provide a buffer against the impact of this market restructuring.
- In the health sector, the main priority will be placed on closer cooperation (in particular in overcoming crisis situations) in combating communicable diseases, general health concerns, food safety and general production security. Switzerland would be able to participate in the relevant EU agencies, early-warning systems and programmes on an equal basis.
In four other priority areas, there is mutual interest in closer cooperation. Preparations will be pursued in the following areas:
- Emissions trade with CO2 certificates: Through an agreement the emissions trading systems of the EU and Switzerland could be linked, and the emissions rights for greenhouse gases mutually recognised. The Emission Trading Scheme of the EU has established itself as the world's largest market for emissions rights, and is considered today to be an important instrument of international cooperation for combating climate change.
- Participation in the Galileo satellite-aided navigation system: Galileo is expected to provide a more reliable and precise navigation system than the American GPS and will end the dependence in Europe on GPS, which is under the control of the US armed forces. This will ensure the availability of the system both in times of peace and crisis.
- Technical cooperation with the European Defence Agency. Through an administrative agreement, Switzerland would gain access to the multilateral defence arrangement in Europe. This primarily concerns the exchange of information but also ad hoc participation in programmes and projects, e.g. research and development. No obligation to cooperate would arise out of an agreement in this area.
- A framework agreement on participation in peace promotion missions: Since 2003, Switzerland has participated in one-off civilian and military peace building missions in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy. Through a framework agreement, general procedures could be established and as a result reduce the administrative costs of future operations. This would have no influence on Switzerland's freedom of decision concerning the missions to which it contributes.
There is no intention to link formally these areas within the framework of a negotiating package. However, Switzerland will continue to pursue a coordinated approach also in relation to the negotiations on these new files. As a result, a balance should be maintained between the interests of the respective parties, and it should also be possible to avoid any negative effects that could result from the interaction of the different areas on which agreements have been reached.
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