GENEVA (AP) — The Swiss government said Wednesday that years-long negotiations with the European Union on a comprehensive package of bilateral accords have collapsed, after the two sides failed to reach agreement on key issues including the cross-border movement of jobseekers.
Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said the Alpine nation’s government informed EU chief Ursula von der Leyen about its decision to withdraw from the talks — a breakdown that could resonate with Britain as it seeks to flesh out its own ties with the bloc following the wrenching, divisive Brexit process.
The collapse of talks could have significant repercussions for the wealthy Alpine nation of about 8.5 million people, which is all but surrounded by EU countries. Some 1.4 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and about 340,000 people commute across the border to work in an array of Swiss industries.
The negotiations largely stumbled over EU demands for full access to the Swiss labor market for its citizens, including those seeking work. Switzerland had resisted such a move. Cassis said it could mark a “paradigm shift” which could result in non-Swiss citizens getting social security rights in the country.
Cassis said Switzerland hoped to remain a close partner of the 27-nation bloc, with which it has more than 100 bilateral treaties, but also suggested his country deserved respect it wasn’t getting from the EU.
“We want Switzerland to be treated on an equal footing compared to other third-party states (outside the EU), whether it’s a question of cooperation or the recognition of equal standards,” Cassis told reporters in Bern, the capital.
The EU’s executive Commission expressed regret at what it called a “unilateral” Swiss decision, and said the negotiations were aimed to ensure that anyone with access to the bloc’s single market faces the same conditions. It said decades-old EU-Swiss agreements were “not up to speed” for current bilateral ties.
“We will now analyze carefully the impact of this announcement,” it said.
But the bloc has been unflinching in its previous warnings about what a failure to strike the “institutional framework agreement” would mean. The EU has circulated a fact sheet suggesting that a lack of common rules could cause Switzerland to lose its “privileged” connection with the bloc’s electricity system and that the lack of a framework accord was “hampering access of Swiss air carriers to the EU’s internal market.”
The EU also suggested that cooperation in the health sector or labor market would suffer.
The EU has warned that failure to reach an agreement could harm numerous existing agreements, including cooperation in the areas of trade, education and research.