The Swiss government decided to withdraw from agreements with the European Union, known as the Institutional Framework Agreement (InstA), due to strong opposition in the country. Decisionmakers in the Swiss capital of Bern concluded that there were still significant differences between Switzerland and the EU regarding key aspects of the agreement. The main disagreements between Bern and Brussels revolves around the free movement of people, EU citizens' access to Swiss social benefits, state aid and labor rules.
“The conditions are thus not met for the signing of the agreement. The Federal Council today took the decision not to sign the agreement, and communicated this decision to the EU. This brings the negotiations on the draft of the InstA to a close,” the Swiss Federal Council said in a statement yesterday.
At last month's summit, the two sides failed to resolve differences over the agreement, which focuses on five areas: free movement of people, civil aviation, land transport, mutual recognition of industry standards and processed agricultural goods. Switzerland has insisted on larger concessions related to state aid issues, labor regulations and citizens' rights.
Although EU states are angered by Switzerland’s “flanking measures” that were implemented in 2004 to ensure high paid jobs are not undercut by temporary foreign workers, it is a non-negotiable red line for Swiss unions. Brussels is also angered that Switzerland is refusing to give EU citizens the same social benefits as Swiss citizens. At the same time, Brussels expects Bern to end state aid, with some exceptions, that gives advantages to the Swiss in the common market. This has raised Swiss concerns about losing public subsidies for some sectors and state guarantees for regional banks, something that will not be tolerated.
In response, the European Commission said that they “regret this decision, given the progress that has been made over the last years to make the Institutional Framework Agreement a reality.”
They also stressed that the “core purpose” of InstA “was to ensure that anyone operating in the EU Single Market, to which Switzerland has significant access, faces the same conditions. That is fundamentally a matter of fairness and legal certainty. Privileged access to the Single Market must mean abiding by the same rules and obligations.”
However, as evidenced by the statement, Brussels is attempting to force Bern to accept all EU policies, thus undermining the country’s sovereignty. The EU’s attempt is despite Switzerland not even being a member state after it voted not to join the European Economic Area in 1992. Switzerland has been fiercely independent since the signing of the Federal Charter of 1291. By Brussels attempting to force Switzerland to adopt EU policies despite not being a member state, strong condemnations were heard across the country. The Swiss People's Party (SVP), which has 53 members in the 200-seat National Council (the most out of any party), said that the decision to not renew agreements with the EU is “a victory for Swiss self-determination.”
It is this idea of Swiss independence and self-determination that guides the country’s policies. If the Swiss allow the EU to impose policies and demands on the country, it can open a pandora’s box that can unravel and challenge Switzerland’s famous neutrality.
It must be recalled that Swiss Ambassador to Russia Krystyna Marty Lang said in March that “Switzerland and Russia maintain good and multifaceted relations in all areas” and “Russia is one of the most important partners in matters of peace, security and economic development.”
Switzerland in March also released its first “China Strategy” that is intended to create “greater cohesion” between the two countries. Switzerland is also the first European country to establish a free trade agreement with Beijing, and is considered one of the most China-friendly countries in Europe.
Due to its neutrality, Switzerland did not join the EU or NATO, and therefore has complete sovereignty that it fiercely defends. As it is not a part of either bloc, it has not been dragged into Russo/Sino-phobia like most of Europe has because of the Baltic States, Poland and Czechia.
From the Swiss perspective, by the EU attempting to forcibly subjugate them, the only reaction can be a firm rejection. This took Brussels by surprise and they had to concede that “we will now analyze carefully the impact of this announcement” after acknowledging that it was a “unilateral decision of the Swiss Government.” If Brussels believes that it can influence Swiss economic and domestic policies, then it would only be a matter of time before they are emboldened enough to try and influence its foreign policy. In this way, for Bern to preserve the amicable relations it has with every major power in the world, it has no choice but to strongly reject the demands emanating from Brussels in demonstration that its sovereignty will not be challenged or undermined.
By Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
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