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Switzerland eyes ‘EU-deal lite’ in bid to rescue failing talks with Brussels

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Switzerland eyes ‘EU-deal lite’ in bid to rescue failing talks with Brussels
Will Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis win backing for his new negotiating strategy? File photo: AFP
21:37 CEST+02:00
With talks between Switzerland and the European Union over a proposed new institutional framework deal threatening to fail, the Swiss foreign minister is set to announce a rescue plan that involves breaking up the negotiations into smaller pieces.

While negotiations between Brussels and London over the UK’s decision to leave the EU continue to make international headlines, Switzerland is also involved in protracted and thorny negotiations over its future relationship with the 28-nation bloc.

Relations between the Swiss government and the EU are governed by an array of bilateral contracts but the partnership turned sour after Swiss voters in 2014 approved a popular initiative calling for quotas on immigration.

Read also: European Commission President - 'The Swiss have a completely false view of me'

That result, which contravenes the EU treaty of free movement, could have resulted in the enacting of the so-called guillotine clause which would have seen all treaties between Switzerland the EU rendered null and void.

Instead it sparked negotiations towards a new institutional framework deal on relations between the parties.

The talks have moved forward in fits and starts ever since but have now stalled again over issues including whether Bern will adopt EU law on the rights and conditions of posted workers.

The EU recently bolstered a legal regime designed to protect local workers from seeing their wages and conditions undercut by cheaper workers from other countries.

In June, it emerged Bern might be willing to make concessions on Switzerland's labour protection measures but Swiss unions and parties across the political spectrum responded by resolutely stating these measures were not up for negotiation.

However, with Switzerland and the EU having now apparently having agreed that an arbitrator will look at legal conflicts involving Bern and Brussels – rather than the European Court of Justice, which was the solution originally preferred by the EU but widely rejected by many people in Switzerland – it appears there is a possible new recipe for negotiations.

Under the plan, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis is set to suggest to the Swiss government that Bern try and split negotiations with the EU into two parts, Switzerland’s SonntagsZeitung reported on Sunday.

Specifically, Bern and Brussels would sign off on the issue of the settlement of legal disputes now and sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing both sides to resolve other outstanding issues including labour protection issues within five years.

The SonntagsZeitung described this as a “light” or "speck-free" version of the framework deal. It said Cassis was responding to the political mood in Switzerland where two centre-right parties – the Radicals (FDP) and the Christian Democrats (CVP) – as well as the Socialists have called for negotiations to be placed on ice in recent weeks until the issue of labour protection measures is resolved.

The influential Sunday paper also said a division of the negotiation into two parts would allow both Bern and Brussels to save face.

Whether Switzerland’s seven-member cabinet will approve the option is set to be decided this Wednesday or a week later on September 12th.

How the EU would react to the plan is also a subject of speculation. 

Read also: Ten things you need to know about the Swiss political system

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