The Brexit discussion has shed a new light on the relations the EU has with non-member states. The Swiss approach of sector by sector cooperation with the EU, the so-called ‘bilateral way’, is seen as one of several existing models allowing for a comprehensive and deep partnership to the benefit of all.
There are more than 120 bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU. Some are based on harmonised rules opening up a mutual market access on equal terms. Others define Swiss participation in EU programmes (e.g. research) and different forms of cooperation in policy fields like migration, asylum and security. The figures speak for themselves: the total trade value of goods and services amounts to 1,8 billion euros per working day; close to 1,4 million EU citizens live in Switzerland; and about 320.000 commuters come to work in Switzerland every day.
Switzerland and the EU are currently reinforcing the bilateral way by negotiating new bilateral agreements, amongst others, in the fields of electricity, public health, agriculture and cabotage. Switzerland and the EU are also negotiating an institutional agreement to consolidate the existing access to the EU Single Market and to open the way for new agreements.
Euractiv organised this event to discuss the effectiveness of the Swiss bilateral way with Swiss State Secretary for European Affairs Roberto Balzaretti. Questions included:
- How comfortable are Switzerland and the EU with a partnership not based on one single agreement, but a number of sectorial agreements managed in about 25 mixed committees?
- How to insert the Swiss-EU bilateral relationship into a multilateral entity, the EU, which is constantly in motion?
- What would be the implications of a new institutional framework between Switzerland and the EU? Is it a condition to have unrestricted access to the European market in goods and services?
- How close is the Swiss model to “have your cake and eat it too”? How relevant is it for other third countries?
- Can we say that the overall Brexit plan will be comparable to the relations between the EU and Switzerland?
- Switzerland is looking for ways to improve and deepen its cooperation with the EU. UK chose to leave. Should this imply a different treatment from the EU?
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