Crucial draft deal with EU will fail: Swiss finance minster
Switzerland's finance minister has told the country's top diplomats a draft deal on the future of bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union will 'fade away'.
Ueli Maurer, who is currently also Swiss president under the country’s system of rotating the presidency among government ministers, made the comments at an annual foreign affairs conference for diplomats last Wednesday, according to Swiss media reports.
Years in the making, the draft Swiss–EU deal is designed to update and streamline relations between Bern and Brussels. It was unveiled late last year.
The deal is critical in ensuring Switzerland continues to enjoy privileged access to EU markets and Brussels has put pressure on Switzerland to sign as soon as possible, saying it will not go back to the negotiating table.
But the Swiss government has repeatedly played for time, arguing any possible deal must be capable of winning support among a majority of the Swiss population in the event of a likely referendum on the agreement under Switzerland's unique system of direct democracy.
No progress on wage protection measures over summer
The main sticking point at present rests on whether the draft deal does enough to guarantee Swiss employment measures designed to protect the country’s high wages.
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According to government sources cited by the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, talks between Bern and Brussels on this issue over the summer have failed to bear fruit.
The recent comments by Maurer – a member of Switzerland’s anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP) reportedly caused consternation among diplomats, while also highlighting the divisions between his department and the foreign ministry, which is currently reportedly working at breakneck speed to finalize the deal with the EU.
'A shot in the back for our team in Brussels'
Swiss MP Hans-Peter Portmann told Swiss paper SonntagsBlick that Maurer’s statements were “a shot in the back for our team in Brussels, which has been working for months towards a solution with the EU”.
Portmann, a member of the Swiss parliament’s foreign affairs committee, is now expected to call on the committee to demand that Maurer explain his comments.
But the Swiss finance ministry has countered by saying Maurer simply stated the position of the Federal Council, as the Swiss government is known.
The Federal Council in June requested that Brussels provide ‘clarifications’ on a number of points in the current Swiss–EU deal including that of wage protection measures.
'No serious talks until next year'
Meanwhile, in an interview with the SonntagsZeitung paper, Economy Minister Guy Parmelin, also with the SVP, talked down the chances of a deal being Switzerland and Brussels being signed this year.
Parmelin said factors including unresolved issues with the current deal, the upcoming Swiss federal elections in October, a Swiss referendum on whether to scrap the Swiss–EU freedom of movement treaty and the election of a new team of European Commissioners in November would all mean “serious” talks surrounding the Swiss–EU would all take place “next year at the earliest."