Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Switzerland: ”Improve EU relations” - but how?

For the European Union a reality check, as good as good as they come: EU roars, but Switzerland not moved (3 January 2011).

Official EU and Swiss positions

The official views and expectations of the European Union with regard to Switzerland were defined by the General Affairs Council (GAC):

Council conclusions on EU relations with EFTA countries; 3060th GENERAL AFFAIRS Council meeting Brussels, 14 December 2010

In September 2010 the Swiss Federal Council (government) had adopted a report on the relationship between the Confederation and the European Union. You can link to the fresh position paper:

An overview of the Federal Council’s Report on the Evaluation of Switzerland’s European Policy (published 17 September 2010; a nine page summary in English)

For the full report of about a hundred pages you have to choose one of the official languages of Switzerland, German, French or Italian:

Bericht des Bundesrates über die Evaluation der schweizerischen Europapolitik

Rapport du Conseil fédéral sur l’évaluation de la politique européenne de la Suisse

Rapporto del Consiglio federale sulla valutazione della politica europea svizzera

Swiss government discussion

Before Christmas the Swiss federal government had a first discussion about the conclusions by the EU ministers about the relations with EFTA member Switzerland.

I failed to find any official documentation, so we have to look at media reports from and reactions to the press briefing 22 December 2010.

Media reactions

According to Basler Zeitung, the Swiss Federal Council (government) rejected EU criticism of how Switzerland applied treaties with the European Union: Der Bundesrat trotzt der EU (22 December 2010).

SR DRS reported that the European Union wants automatic Swiss adaptation to EU law, but that this is out of the question for the Federal Council: Beziehungen zur EU: Stillstand (22 December 2010).

Neither the EU nor the government of Switzerland want to move from their earlier positions, reported Swissinfo.ch: Beziehungen Schweiz-EU: Optionen für Zukunft liegen auf dem Tisch (22 December 2010).

The Basler Zeitung came to the conclusion that the bilateral model is the only option, but the relationship between Switzerland and the European Union needs a new thrust: Zeit für den grossen Kuhhandel (23 December 2010).

The newspaper describes the Swiss position in the following terms:

Für Bern ist aber klar: Eine automatische Übernahme von EU-Recht, wie sie Brüssel faktisch fordert, liegt nicht drin. Innenpolitisch ist nur eine Lösung durchsetzbar, die Mitsprache, genügend Zeit für die Umsetzung neuer Regeln und ein Schiedsgericht vorsieht und auf Automatismen verzichtet. Alles andere kollidiert mit dem Schweizer Politsystem und seinen Abläufen und hilft der SVP – diese wartet bloss darauf, dem Bundesrat im Wahljahr 2011 einen europapolitischen Kniefall vorwerfen zu können.

The Basler Zeitung is worth reading for its views on important dossiers, as well as for its evaluation of the chances for agreement on the whole.

Micheline Calmy-Rey

On 1 January 2011 foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey became the president of the Swiss Confederation for a year, and on the same day SwissInfo.ch published an interview where she presented her views on the year ahead: "Mehr Selbstvertrauen statt Selbstkritik", headlined ”New president urges more self-confidence” in the English translation.

President Calmy-Rey wants to improve EU relations:

DRS: Switzerland is facing important decisions in its European policy. How can you make the climate in Switzerland more favourable towards Brussels?

M.C.-R.: Consolidating relations with the EU is one of the priorities of my presidential year. These relations need to be as good as they can be, since the EU is our most important political and economic partner.

So far we have followed the bilateral path. The results of this path have been good as far as the economic and security are concerned.

But as far as our sovereignty goes, the results have been more mixed. We have adopted a lot of things from the EU, such as developments in the legal area, but we cannot have our own say. That is not something I can be satisfied with.

The EU says that the 120 agreements [including the bilaterals I and II] incurred a great deal of work, so relations must be simplified. It argues that we have profited from our access to its market with its 500 million consumers. So it claims we should also adopt EU regulations.

But as a non-EU-member, on the basis of our sovereignty, we say “no” to the automatic adoption of EU law. Should we embark on such discussions, our democratic rights such as initiatives and referendums would have to be preserved.

The discussions about ”horisontal” issues of streamlined adoption and homogenous implementation of EU law have actually started at working group level, but president Calmy-Rey offers no concrete suggestions as to how to improve the relationship.

Lamenting the lack of influence and the potential offer of (political level) discussions seem to be the only concessions, and if constitutional initiatives and referendums exclude all automaticity, we have difficulties seeing how the EU and Switzerland can make progress.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. ”EU questions Hungary as presidency opens”, writes The Irish Times, one of the many articles I hope that EPP president Wilfried Martens reads as he ponders the founding values of the European Union, as well as the principle of non-discrimination and fundamental rights in the EU. The biggest political group has the greatest responsibility towards the citizens.