Switzerland and the EU: cooperation and negotiation

Switzerland and the European Union have a long history of close cooperation. And while Switzerland might look like a solitary island in the middle of the EU, it shares many goals, values and policies with the 27-nation bloc.

The lives of Swiss and EU citizens are closely entwined. Over 1.5 million EU citizens live and work in Switzerland, and 450,000 Swiss nationals are based in EU countries. © KEYSTONE / GAETAN BALLY

Over the past 50 years, Switzerland and the EU have agreed on more than 120 bilateral deals to ensure smooth relations in areas such as trade, transport, security, and education.

Because the EU is Switzerland’s most important economic partner, barrier-free participation in the EU single market remains a priority for the Swiss. At the same time, a priority for the EU is the integrity of its single market, which calls for the same rules to apply to all participants.

Why it’s challenging

Previous negotiations came to a halt in 2021, when the Swiss government rejected the proposed Swiss-EU institutional framework agreement (InstA). One challenge was managing the free movement of persons in a way that works for everyone. For the Federal Council, differences on the following essential points were ultimately insurmountable:

  • The threat to the tried and tested protection against wage dumping (in the form of accompanying measures)
  • The feared increase in EU social welfare recipients with no option to withdraw residence rights or deport persons convicted of criminal offences (EU Citizens’ Rights Directive)
  • Open questions concerning the regulation of state aid (level playing field)

Despite the challenges, the Swiss authorities are committed to solving these problems with a new approach. Well-regulated relations between Switzerland and the EU are essential, and guarantee prosperity and stability for both sides.

Going forward, the Federal Council’s primary objective is to consolidate and further develop the bilateral path with the EU via a package of new and revised cooperation and market access agreements. Compared with the institutional framework agreement, this package approach allows greater flexibility and scope for action to safeguard the interests of both sides during the negotiations.

Negotiating mandate

In December 2023, the Federal Council approved a draft negotiating mandate for continued cooperation with the EU. This mandate is based on parameters approved by the Federal Council, the outcome of some 18 months of exploratory talks with the EU, and the discussions held with social and economic partners in Switzerland. Relevant Swiss parliamentary committees as well as the cantons spoke out in favour of the mandate; social partners had the opportunity to comment as well. The Federal Council integrated many of these recommendations into the final version of the mandate, which it signed off on definitively in March 2024.

For the Federal Council, the mandate enjoys good domestic support and leaves room for manoeuvre for the negotiations with the EU. The negotiations will address the following key points:

  • New agreements on electricity, food safety and health
  • Also new: Dynamic adoption of legislation and dispute settlement when it comes to the five market participation agreements between Switzerland and the EU (free movement of persons, overland transport, civil aviation, agriculture and the mutual recognition of industrial goods)
  • Swiss participation in EU research and education programmes like Horizon Europe
  • Regular Swiss EU cohesion contributions

Switzerland is the EU’s 4th largest trade partner

A desirable partnership

Switzerland is an attractive partner for the EU. Here are some key Swiss assets that contribute to Europe’s quality of life and future prospects:

Room for manoeuvre

In short, the EU and Switzerland share the common goal of improving the quality and the predictability of their relations as well as strengthening Europe’s competitiveness and position in the world. The negotiating mandate makes it possible for the concerns of both Switzerland and the EU to be brought to the table and discussed simultaneously. Its various elements provide room for manoeuvre in the search for solutions. The common understanding shaped during the 18 months of exploratory talks will help pave the way to ensure a smoother and more efficient exchange during the formal negotiations.

Background

Latest information

The EU is Switzerland’s largest trade partner

Last modification 21.05.2024

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