EU erupts at Switzerland as Berns Brexit stance turns heads: Takes two to tango

Switzerland: Reporter discusses collapse of EU trade talks

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The European Union urged Switzerland on Monday to set out a clear timetable for resolving issues over its place in the EU internal market by January after breaking off talks with its biggest trading partner in May.

Brussels has been pushing for a decade for a treaty that would sit atop a patchwork of bilateral accords and have the Swiss routinely adopt changes to single market rules.

It would also have provided a more effective way to resolve disputes.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commissioner overseeing EU-Swiss affairs, told a news conference on Monday that the EU’s door remained open, but that “it takes two to tango”.

After a meeting with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignacio Cassis, he told reporters: “What we now need from Switzerland is the unambiguous political will to engage with us on the real issues that count and a credible timetable.

“In other words, any political dialogue must be focused and substantial.”

The European Union wants Switzerland to agree to dynamic alignment of its laws with EU law, a level-playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes and regular contributions to EU funds for poorer EU members.

Mr Sefcovic added: “We will meet again in Davos in the second half of January to assess the progress.

“By then, we will see whether a true political commitment is there.”

One of the earlier impacts of the impasse has been on Swiss scientists’ participation in the Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research and innovation funding programmes with a budget of 95 billion euros.

The EU Commissioner said Swiss researchers and institutions could continue to participate, but they would not be able to access EU taxpayers’ money until other issues are resolved.

The Swiss government aims to deploy transitional measures to make up for the funding shortfalls.

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In May, Switzerland walked out of talks to replace its bilateral agreement with an overarching framework agreement with Brussels to manage their relationship.

Bern said the pact threatened its sovereignty and ability to protect its labour market.

The move was branded by some as Switzerland’s “Brexit moment”.

Switzerland has never been an EU member and rejected joining the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992.

But it has enjoyed almost full access to the EU’s single market through a series of 120 bilateral agreements and is a member of the bloc’s Schengen passport-free travel area.

The country has also been largely aligned with Brussels on a vast array of economic and legal matters.

Brussels claimed the framework agreement would have upgraded and enhanced their relationship.

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