Could future EU-Swiss relations be in trouble?

The EU has been negotiating a new treaty with Switzerland. However, as these negotiations have stalled over the summer months, it’s now feared that relations between the two could take a turn for the worse. According to Swiss labour unions, the EU are attempting to undercut the working conditions for Swiss nationals. For this reason, the talks have stopped progressing. But the EU has warned that if a deal isn’t reached, it could affect Switzerland’s access to the single market and cross-border stock trading.

The EU’s current relationship with Switzerland consists of over 100 bilateral agreements. These were introduced in 1972 and include free movement of people, air and land transport deals, access to the single market, agriculture and more. Switzerland are required to follow relevant EU legislation for these sectors, and, since 2007, they have paid a financial contribution in exchange for access to the single market. The EU is Switzerland main trading partner.

The negotiations that took place earlier in the year broke down due to Swiss unions rejecting certain proposals made by the EU. For example, the EU said it would like Switzerland to relax its rules on EU employers, who currently need to give the authorities eight days notice before sending temporary workers over the border. One of the accusations was that some of the EU’s suggestions would harm pay for workers in Switzerland, as well as undercutting local work conditions.

The Swiss Trade Union Confederation (SGB) said it would no longer be taking part in the talks. The union’s president Paul Rechsteiner said in an interview that they would take measures — up to forcing a referendum — to prevent a possible reduction of the protective measures.” Swiss Finance Minister, Ueli Maurer, also noted that any framework agreement could have “a major impact on neutrality and would call it into question.”

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has suggested that time is running out for the Swiss authorities to reach a deal with the EU. He said that failure to reach an agreement “could get really bad”. In addition, Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations commented: “negotiations cannot become a never-ending story. I expect that by the end of October at the latest we see clearly whether we can put something together or not.”

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