‘It takes two to tango’: EU doubts Switzerland’s will to cooperate on deal

The EU on Monday urged Switzerland to show whether it still wants a far-reaching cooperation agreement with the bloc, months after the Swiss government stormed away from the negotiation table.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

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.

Member comments

  1. Switzerland may be EU’s fourth largest export market but I bet it is the most profitable!

    EU needs the chf as somehow they managed to lose their second largest ATM

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Switzerland preparing to host Zelensky’s first trip since invasion

Swiss officials are preparing to welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first overseas trip since Russia invaded in late February, when he visits the southern canton of Ticino for a conference on Ukrainian security in July.

Switzerland preparing to host Zelensky’s first trip since invasion

Zelensky has been invited to the event on July 4th and 5th in Lugano alongside several world leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Swiss media reports the Ukrainian leader looks set to attend the conference, which would make it his first trip abroad since Russia invaded in late February. 

Swiss broadsheet Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday that Zelensky originally committed to attend the conference before the invasion, but Swiss authorities said in March the Ukrainian President’s attendance was “no longer imaginable”. 

Security services however said on Wednesday they are continuing to operate under the assumption Zelensky will attend the conference, which would be his first overseas visit. 

Zelensky spoke with Swiss President Ignazio Cassis on Saturday and Swiss authorities believe the Ukrainian President is still planning on attending, but has acknowledged he may cancel the visit at short notice depending on the situation in Ukraine. 

Zelensky has previously refused offers to leave Ukraine, saying he would remain in Kyiv as long as the invasion continued. 

What is the conference about?

Initially planned as a conference to discuss reform, organisers say it will now focus on security, fundraising and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine. 

Security Director Norman Gobbi told the Tages Anzeiger “The reform conference has become a donor and reconstruction conference – with completely different dimensions in terms of security policy.”

Gobbi said the conference had grown in importance “especially since in addition to the Ukrainian representatives, heads of state such as Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz are considering attending”. 

“For Lugano, for the canton of Tessin and for Switzerland it is an honour – but a considerable challenge – to host such a conference”. 

Switzerland has thrown its support behind Ukraine since the invasion, joining EU sanctions efforts despite domestic criticism that it amounts to an erosion of the country’s commitment to neutrality. 

READ MORE: Sanctions on Russia – is Switzerland still a neutral nation? 

Cassis has dismissed these concerns, saying “doing nothing in the face of an aggressor is not neutral”. 

Zelensky, who previously met Cassis in October 2021 before their April 30th meeting, has previously said he would consider a Swiss-style form of armed neutrality in order to bring the invasion to an end. 

The southern, Italian-speaking canton of Ticino has come under increasing scrutiny since Russia’s invasion, with speculation in Russian and Swiss media that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mistress, Alina Kabaeva, lives in Ticino, with several of Putin’s children. 

At least two of Putin’s children are believed to have been born in Lugano, with US government officials believing they have spent their time alongside their mother in a Lugano villa and in a luxury compound in the western canton of Geneva. 

Swiss officials have said publicly that Kabaeva has not been issued with a Swiss residency permit, giving rise to media speculation that she is living in the country illegally. 

Kabaeva, a former gymnast who won Olympic gold, made her first appearance since the invasion at a gymnastics event in Moscow in April, where she called upon Russia to support the war efforts. 

In her appearance, Kabaeva said “every family has a war story and we mustn’t forget it”, while linking the current invasion to the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War Two

READ MORE: Pressure building on Switzerland to deport Putin’s mistress