Switzerland-EU: Start of negotiations with many question marks

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

On 18 March, another chapter of the big show began: President of the Swiss Confederation Viola Amherd and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen posed in front of the cameras in Brussels in colour-coordinated jackets and officially launched the negotiations on the planned Switzerland-EU agreement, which is supposed to be completely different from the failed framework agreement.

Mysterious landing zones

At the same time, the chief negotiators Patric Franzen (Switzerland) and Richard Szostak (EU) began their talks – about what? According to the responsible EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič – with whom Viola Amherd also shone in the flashbulbs – there is actually nothing left to negotiate: “We have been negotiating for eighteen months to achieve a negotiating mandate. We want to focus on where the landing zones can be.” On 8 March, the Federal Council transformed this “mandate” (which can be found in the “Common Understanding”)1 into a “Definitive Negotiating Mandate” and supplemented it with a Swiss wish list full of clarifications and exceptions.2
  But there will hardly be much room for Swiss wishes in the “landing zones” that Brussels has in mind. “Landing zones” are “regularly set up by the mighty in Brussels”, according to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”: “The constant disagreement of the member states calls for written negotiating principles, which gradually become a compromise; a zone that is reduced in size until the spaceship Europe can just about land on it.”3 How much space the spaceship Europe needs to land in Switzerland will not be decided in Bern.

Let us not be
distracted from the essentials!

However, the wrangling about exceptions to the EU legal framework must not distract us from the essentials. Breaking up the framework agreement into individual packages with different coloured wrapping paper is just a confusing tactic. The EU basic framework – adoption of the “institutional elements” and ban on state aid – remains incompatible with the Swiss state system even with all the whitewashing (see Current Concerns of 16 January, 27 February and 12 March 2024).
  In a recent newspaper interview with EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, it becomes clear that the EU leaders have no idea about the Swiss state model. The democratic process is “not entirely different” in the EU, as the agreement must be approved by the Commission, the 27 heads of state and the EU Parliament, Šefčovič said.4 You can’t expect an EU Commissioner to understand the fundamental difference to direct democratic decision-making in Switzerland. However, the Swiss media, the Federal Council and its negotiating team must be called upon to finally make the Brussels bureaucrats realise that the two systems are irreconcilable. Then there would be no need to organise yet another mock negotiation at great expense, the outcome of which is already largely clear from Brussels’ point of view and would fail in the referendum at the latest.

No incentives to move to Switzerland?

No other European country has such a high proportion of foreigners as Switzerland At the end of 2023, 2,313,217 out of 8.9 million inhabitants were foreigners, or around 26 % (see box).
  When asked by the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”: “Switzerland is one of the fastest growing countries in Europe in this respect [migration]. Do you understand that people are worried?” Maroš Šefčovič replied: “It will be guaranteed that EU citizens will not be able to move to Switzerland just to gain access to social security. They will come to work.” He added: “There will be no incentives to move to Switzerland. That’s a good example of us listening to our dialogue partner.”
  Mr Šefčovič would do well to get off his high horse and take note of the fact that the Swiss resident population has grown from 7.2 million to almost 9 million since the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons came into force in 2002. Everyone knows that there are huge incentives to move to Switzerland, for whatever purpose. The EU Commissioner also ignores the fact that the planned agreement would effectively impose the EU Citizens Directive on Switzerland, a set of rules that is completely alien to our understanding of the law and our state model and would certainly lead to even more immigration. A few vaguely worded exceptions are by no means a “guarantee” that fewer people will immigrate to the Swiss social security system. (Current Concernsreported on this on 27 February 2024 under the title “Free movement of persons – one of the mammoths in the room”).

Protection from excessive immigration –
 not a negotiating objective!

The Federal Council would therefore like to at least install an emergency brake. With this in mind, the journalists asked: “What about the existing safeguard clause (Article 14.2) of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons? The Federal Council would like to clarify what constitutes ‘serious economic or social problems that allow remedial measures to be taken against excessive immigration’.” With his response, Šefčovič demonstrated that Brussels’ promised “exceptions” are largely smoke and mirrors: “If we want the negotiations to be successful, we have to stick to the common understanding here. I don’t see this problem when I look at the document.”5
  All right. As I said, it would be wiser to end the negotiations with such “partners” today. We would be better off with the existing bilateral agreements and the 1972 free trade agreement. We will continue to cope with the expected pinpricks from the Brussels bureaucracy. The main thing is that Switzerland can retain its freedom and sovereignty.  •

1 Annex to the Federal Council’s press release of 15 December 2023, “Switzerland and the EU officially opened negotiations” https://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/fdfa/fdfa/aktuell/newsuebersicht/2023/europa.html
2 https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/86557.pdf
3 Diesteldorf, Jan. “Aktuelles Lexikon. Landezone”. (Current Lexicon. Landing zone.) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 15 December 2023
4 Imwinkelried, Daniel/Steinvorth, Daniel. “Es gibt keine Anreize, in die Schweiz zu ziehen». Interview mit EU-Kommissar Maroš Šefčovič.” (There are no incentives to move to Switzerland. Interview with EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic.) In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 19 March 2024
5 ibid.

Sharp increase in immigration in 2023

mw. In 2023, 98,851 more people immigrated than emigrated to Switzerland. According to the Federal Statistical Office, net immigration thus increased by 21.5 % compared to 2022.
  A total of 181,553 people immigrated to Switzerland in 2023, 71.9 % of whom came from an EU or EFTA member state. Immigration from these countries increased by 14.1 % to 130,483 people. The increase in immigration from third countries totalled 6.3 %. (SRF News of 23 February 2024)

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