Two-thirds of Swiss companies want treaty with EU

File photo. Alphorn blowers in traditional costume play in front of a flag-swinger during celebrations of the Swiss National Day in Zurich, Switzerland, 1 August 2017. [Christian Merz/EPA/EFE]

Two out of three Swiss companies want Switzerland to sign a draft treaty negotiated with the European Union, a poll for business lobby Economiesuisse found, highlighting the country’s political divide over its biggest foreign policy decision.

The treaty would have non-EU member Switzerland routinely adopt EU single market rules and have EU citizens in Switzerland enjoy the same rights as in their home countries. It would open the possibility of new trade deals, such as for an electricity union encompassing Swiss and European utilities.

EU-Swiss talks hit impasse, causing Brexit confusion

Talks between Brussels and Berne have been running since 2014 in a bid to formalise the 120 separate accords that have been negotiated between the EU and Switzerland since a 1992 referendum in the Alpine state rejected joining the European Economic Area. But the draft agreement, which was made public in early December, now seems unlikely to become reality.

Only a fifth of companies with at least 20 staff oppose the treaty with the EU, Switzerland’s biggest trading partner, the gfs.bern poll of more than 1,000 companies released on Tuesday (28 May) showed.

The government has to tell the EU next month how it plans to proceed with the stalled treaty, which Brussels has demanded for a decade and which was negotiated over four years.

Sources close to the matter said last week that opposition from across the political spectrum in Switzerland will make it all but impossible for the Swiss government to sign off on the treaty next month. Instead, the government is likely to seek more talks.

Swiss labour leader declares draft EU treaty ‘dead’

The new head of Switzerland’s powerful labour union federation rejected a draft treaty with the European Union and called for restarting negotiations with the country’s most important trading partner.

Failure to sign would get a frosty reception from Brussels and potentially disrupt trade and cross-border securities deals.

A separate poll for the SonntagsZeitung newspaper showed only 20% of Swiss surveyed wanted the government to sign the treaty in its current form, while 26% opposed any accord and 41% wanted changes to the treaty text.

Opponents range from the far-right Swiss People’s Party, which calls the treaty an unacceptable infringement of sovereignty, to the centre-left Social Democrats, who reject diluting Swiss rules that protect Europe’s highest wages from cross-border competition.

Unlike Britain’s messy Brexit divorce from the EU, Switzerland has a patchwork of 120 sectoral accords that govern EU ties and which would remain in place in the absence of a new treaty. But they will become increasingly outdated as EU single market rules evolve.

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