Thursday, 21 October 2010

Switzerland: European Union playing seek

Yesterday we looked at some issues between the European Union and Switzerland, but especially for useful information about where the relationship is going. On this count, the own-initiative resolution from the European Parliament was almost the only thing with real informational value unearthed by a quick search: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them: European Union and Switzerland (20 October 2010).

Almost, I said, because I left the public statements by president Herman Van Rompuy and president José Manuel Barroso to this post.

Herman Van Rompuy

Among older news on the EEAS country page for Switzerland we find what president Van Rompuy uttered in public after meeting the president of Switzerland in July:

Remarks by Herman VAN ROMPUY, President of the European Council, following his meeting with Doris LEUTHARD, President of the Swiss confederation; Brussels, 19 July 2010 PCE 169/10

This is what Van Rompuy told the citizens of the European Union after a ‘very fruitful discussion’:

We cover[ed] a lot of ground today. We examined the state of our bilateral relations. More specifically, we have discussed the perspectives for Switzerland’s European integration policy. We have examined the functioning of our relations based on a set of bilateral agreements (more than 120) that unite us. I've expressed [to] the President the importance for these agreements to work well and to be implemented by both sides properly.

We have also discussed how to improve our relations for the future. The EU is convinced on the need to develop the relations with Switzerland on sound legal and political foundations. The EU Council Conclusions of December 2008 laid down the criteria and conditions which must be fulfilled by future negotiations allowing the participation of Switzerland in our internal market and policies.

Such criteria and conditions refer in particular to the acceptance of the evolution of the acquis and its homogeneous interpretation and application.

I know that an important political debate in this regard is taking place in Switzerland, as well as in [the] EU. I've expressed the EU readiness to explore jointly possible solutions to address these questions.

Besides the commonplaces, Van Rompuy left one interesting clue; not to the mandates for ongoing negotiation processes, but a historical reference to Council conclusions from December 2008.

The obvious reference should be the conclusions of the External Relations Council 8 to 9 December 2008, but we come up empty. We fare no better if we check the GAERC General Affairs press release of 8 December 2008. Perhaps it meant the presidency conclusions from the European Council 11 to 12 December 2008? No luck.

'Switzerland' is mentioned in the context of limited issues by the Ecofin Council, the Epsco configuration and the Agriculture and Fisheries formation during December 2008, but I failed to find anything resembling a reset of EU and Swiss relations in general.

The conclusions from the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) 22 February 2010, available through the EEAS country page news, mentioned Lybia’s conflict with Switzerland and the participation of Switzerland in the Media 2007 programme.

I decided not to trawl through the whole ocean of Council documents in order to find something of value about the future relationship between the European Union and Switzerland.

I think I did enough to reach the following conclusion: The EEAS and Council websites are not particularly helpful. Naturally, there are guidelines and mandates, as well as minute records of how the negotiations are going, but not readily accessible.

José Manuel Barroso

Let us look, instead, how matters have advanced in three months. In a speech in Geneva, Commission president José Manuel Barroso gave some indications of what the European Union wishes for the future (in French): Déclaration du Président Barroso au point de presse avec la Conseillère fédérale suisse Micheline Calmy-Rey (14 October 2010, SPEECH/10/558).

We see the will to streamline procedures, and to improve the adoption and application of EU legislation, but how the changes should be brought about is expressed in public with diplomatic lack of precision:

J’ai surtout encouragé l’ouverture continue de la Suisse pour améliorer l’encadrement institutionnel de nos relations.

J’ai signalé à Mme Calmy-Rey l'importance de rendre nos relations et surtout l'application du droit plus dynamiques et plus uniformes pour une meilleure sécurité juridique. Ceci est dans l'intérêt de nos citoyens et de nos entreprises.

Notamment nous devons progresser sur les aspects horizontaux et institutionnels suivants:
• adoption de nouveau acquis et sa mise à jour dynamique
• mise en œuvre uniforme et harmonieuse; surveillance de l'application de l'acquis dans un cadre institutionnel
• adoption de la jurisprudence européenne
• règlement des différends

C'est sur ces questions que nous devons travailler .C'est essentiel pour permettre aux négociations en cours de progresser.

Le marché intérieur est un ensemble cohérent qui ne peut pas être fractionné. Une participation accrue à notre marché intérieur et à nos politiques demande donc l’acceptation par la Suisse de nos règles communes.

Evidemment, ceci doit se faire dans le respect de la souveraineté du peuple suisse. Nous sommes prêts à explorer comment il est possible de réconcilier nos règles du jeu avec la souveraineté suisse et nous pensons que c'est possible, avec imagination, de trouver cette solution.

Barroso’s public comments itemise the issues concerning the adoption of the EU body of (new) law (acquis) and its homogeneous interpretation and application, but they bring little new to light, when we compare them with what Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council had said three months earlier, in July 2010.


Switzerland is surrounded by the European Union, so good and ordered relations are a must, or at least highly desirable for both sides. But the EU has hinted that it is tired of the laborious processes entailed by negotiating one bilateral agreement at a time and then administering and adapting each of the 120 treaties bilaterally every time a legal act is amended or the CJEU has given a new interpretation.

However the information on offer from the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Council of the European Union is neither easily accessible nor particularly illuminating, given the importance of the EU-Swiss relations. The European Union is seeking something, but what exactly?

The gap between existing knowledge and readily accessible quality facts is plainly too wide. The public has been left blindfolded.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Paolo Maria Grossholz runs a special kind of blog, called A 12 Stelle (evoking the twelve stars of Europe). It is listed on blogger, but instead of traditional blog posts written by the author it functions by highlighting and linking to practically all press releases from the EU institutions which are of interest to enterprises. For the Milan based blogger Italian is the primary language, but otherwise the English version is chosen. In the end, it works like a useful news ticker for corporations and SMEs.

Since I mentioned the last time, the multilingual aggregator for Euroblogs has added one to its numbers. There are now 676 blogs related to European Union and Council of Europe affairs listed. There is still a need for a few voluntary editors to tag blog posts according to subject. Join the team!