European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic warned “it takes two to tango” following talks with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, the first high-level sit-down since years of negotiations suddenly collapsed in May.
EU-Swiss ties are currently governed by a patchwork of agreements, and for the past 13 years both sides have attempted to sign an overarching accord that would rule on all aspects of relations.
But in a mirror of the bloc’s post-Brexit feuds with Britain, Swiss officials are reluctant to meet EU demands for budget contributions and alignment on European rules as the price to keep free access to the vast EU market.
The talks hit an impasse after the EU refused to budge on Swiss demands to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement from the pact.
“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,” said Sefcovic.
“In other words, any political dialogue must be focused and substantial. It cannot be an empty shell,” he added.
Sefcovic said technical talks would intensify and he would meet his counterpart again next January in Davos with the aim of finalising a timetable and confirming that the talks were back on track.
Switzerland is the EU’s fourth biggest trading partner after China, the US and Britain. The EU is Switzerland’s biggest trading partner.
Sefcovic, a former Slovak MEP, also oversees the bloc’s tumultuous ties with London. The EU and UK are on the cusp of a damaging trade war over Northern Ireland and fishing rights.