EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland WON’T be signing draft deal with EU

The diplomatic dance between Switzerland and the European Union continues with the Swiss government now announcing it won’t sign a draft deal on bilateral relations with Brussels in its current form.

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland WON'T be signing draft deal with EU
File photo: Depositphotos

In a carefully calibrated statement designed to appease an impatient European Commission, the Swiss executive on Friday said it intended to “consolidate and further develop the bilateral approach”, describing this as the “cornerstone of Swiss–EU relations”.

However, in a letter (in French only) send to the European Commission, the Swiss government stressed it wanted “clarifications” on three key issues before it would sign the draft deal.

Read also: What you need to know about the draft Swiss–EU deal

The three sticking points include possible threats to Swiss measures designed to protect the country’s high wages, concerns over the deal’s impact on state subsidies and a question mark over the EU’s Citizens’ Rights Directive.

This directive is not mentioned in the draft deal but there are concerns its future adoption by Switzerland could see the country having to pay higher welfare benefits to EU citizens living and/or working in the Alpine Country.

Deal not up for renegotiation

The draft “framework agreement” (here in French) deal has been on the table since last year. The product of years of negotiations, it aims to streamline and simplify the current clunky set of bilateral agreements that govern relations between Switzerland and the EU.

The deal is key to ensuring Switzerland continues to enjoy access to the all-important EU market.

Brussels has repeatedly stated the deal is not up for renegotiation and has threatened full Swiss access to the EU stock market if it doesn’t sign. The latest deadline given by Brussels was July.

Read also: How Switzerland's direct democracy system works

But rather than giving in to EU pressure to sign, the Swiss government in December last year launched a consultation process – considered essential in a country where compromise and consensus are integral to the political process.

This consensus building is also critical in the current context given that any possible deal with the EU will almost certainly be the subject of an EU referendum, and must therefore be palatable to at least 50 percent of voters.

And now, by seeking “clarifications” Switzerland has also dodged the accusation that it is seeking the “renegotiation” that is so dreaded by the EU.

The initial reaction from Brussels on Friday was positive with EU Commission Deputy Chief Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stating the Swiss announcement was “an overall positive development”.

“The European Commission will study the letter carefully and we will reply in due course,” she tweeted.

A more detailed response is now expected in coming days.

Read also: Just one in five back crucial deal on current relations with EU

New October deadline?

In terms of a new time frame for signing the deal, Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger quoted sources in Brussels as saying responses on two of the issues raised by the government – the Citizen’s Rights Directive and state subsidies – could come as early as June 17th while the issue of wages protection measures could be looked at over the summer to give Swiss unions time to get on board.

Meanwhile, the EU wants Switzerland to guarantee in June that it will sign the draft deal by the end of October at the latest, the Zurich daily reported.


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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.