Switzerland: Reporter discusses collapse of EU trade talks

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Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis claimed EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic had misrepresented a meeting the pair had last week in a failed bid to restart bilateral trade talks.

Mr Sefcovic told reporters after the meeting that the EU’s door remained open, but that “it takes two to tango”.

He added: “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.

“In other words, any political dialogue must be focused and substantial.”

Responding on Tuesday to Mr Cassis’ criticism, the EU Commissioner told Politico: “I think I was absolutely fair in describing what we discussed in our private meeting.”

The EU is demanding Switzerland shows in detail how it intends to further develop its relations with the bloc as soon as January.

But Mr Cassis has already made it clear that he would hardly be able to present the EU with a concrete plan until the pair next meets in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

Brussels has been pushing for a decade for a treaty that would sit atop a patchwork of bilateral accords and have the Swiss routinely adopt changes to single market rules.

It would also have provided a more effective way to resolve disputes.

The European Union wants Switzerland to agree to dynamic alignment of its laws with EU law, a level-playing field, a mechanism to settle disputes and regular contributions to EU funds for poorer EU members.

One of the earlier impacts of the negotiation impasse has been on Swiss scientists’ participation in the Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research and innovation funding programmes with a budget of 95 billion euros.

Mr Sefcovic said Swiss researchers and institutions could continue to participate, but they would not be able to access EU taxpayers’ money until other issues are resolved.

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The Swiss government aims to deploy transitional measures to make up for the funding shortfalls.

In May, Switzerland walked out of talks to replace its bilateral agreement with an overarching framework agreement with Brussels to manage their relationship.

Bern said the pact threatened its sovereignty and ability to protect its labour market.

The move was branded by some as Switzerland’s “Brexit moment”.

Switzerland has never been an EU member and rejected joining the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992.

But it has enjoyed almost full access to the EU’s single market through a series of 120 bilateral agreements and is a member of the bloc’s Schengen passport-free travel area.

The country has also been largely aligned with Brussels on a vast array of economic and legal matters.

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