Swiss to press on with EU treaty talks without new concessions

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The Swiss government proposed on Friday continuing negotiations with the European Union on clinching a new treaty without making any major new concessions, adding it was committed to protecting high Swiss pay levels.

That has been a major bone of contention with Brussels, which has been pushing to wrap up a treaty by the end of the year. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis had told parliament on Thursday that talks had not made enough progress so far to clinch a deal due to differences over rules to protect Swiss wages from cross-border competition.

In a sign of good faith, the government said it would ask parliament to approve another 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.33 billion) in aid to EU member states although it said key issues in bilateral ties remain outstanding.

These include the European Commission’s threat not to extend beyond this year recognition of Swiss stock exchange rules that allow cross-border trading, which could touch off tit-for-tat escalation.

Should treaty talks fail — and the window is closing fast with elections in Switzerland and for the European Parliament both due next year — a patchwork of 120 sectoral accords governing economic ties would stay in effect, but bilateral relations would enter a deep freeze.

Failure to strike a deal would mean no increase in Swiss access to the single market, dashing hopes for a new electricity union. It could also endanger unfettered EU market access for Swiss makers of products such as medical devices, if agreements on mutual recognition of industrial standards lapse.