Berne decided, Wednesday, May 26, to break off negotiations with the European Union on a vast institutional agreement. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis explains the reasons behind the Swiss decision.
Leaving the table is unusual for Switzerland, historically adept at compromise. What was more unacceptable than before, to the point of bringing the negotiations to an end?
The disagreements are few, but major. An example: when Switzerland signed [en 1999] bilateral agreements with the European Union, the concept of free movement was an economic concept, falling under labor law. It codified the rights and duties of workers and their families. Since 2005, the EU has evolved and free movement has embraced concepts relating to European citizenship, included in a directive indicating that all citizens of the Union have equal rights in each of the Member States, including with regard to concerns social rights. As a non-member country, Switzerland does not wish to adopt this principle.
When you break up negotiations unilaterally, you have to be sure of your strength. What are Switzerland’s strengths?
Our primary strength is stability, for which Switzerland is renowned the world over. And for its slowness, which goes hand in hand. In our opinion, agreeing to give in to this broader notion of free movement and the protection of our wages would have jeopardized the stability of our country, it was too high a price to pay. But this is not a break for all that, because the strength of the partnership between Bern and Brussels remains intact.
How? ‘Or’ What ?
We are not a distant country that speaks another language, with a different culture and values. We are at the center of a European area where French, German and Italian are spoken, just like at home. In a way, we are you, and you are us. Switzerland is part of an area of common values that will not disappear because the agreement in question could not be concluded. We even want to strengthen it.
Why did Switzerland hope that the EU would agree to grant it exceptions to Community law?
This is precisely the reason why we are still not members of the Union, even though we are geographically in the middle of Europe! The form of integration that was offered to us with this framework agreement went too far not to offend the country’s identity. This is not just economic reasoning or a simple cost-benefit issue. Understand: by not continuing the negotiations, Switzerland is not taking a step back. She just gave up on going forward. We wish to stay on the concept of freedom of movement that we signed in 1999. Non-members of the EU, we consider this position logical.
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