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EUROPEAN UNION

Impatient EU pressures Switzerland to back bilateral deal by June 18th

The European Union on Tuesday called on the Swiss government to act within "coming days" to help clear up ongoing concerns over a crucial draft deal on the future of bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU.

Impatient EU pressures Switzerland to back bilateral deal by June 18th
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker would like to see the Swiss-EU deal signed, sealed and delivered before his term in office ends in October. Photo: AFP

The diplomatic but firm response from Brussels came in the form of a letter from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The president's two-page message (here in French) came a matter of days after the Swiss government called for a number of “clarifications” in relation to a draft deal designed to set the tone for future bilateral relations between Bern and Brussels.

Read also: Explained- why Switzerland won't be signing draft deal with EU (at least for now)

The draft of the so-called “framework agreement” is key to ensuring Switzerland has access to the all-important European single market. But the Swiss government has struggled to sell the deal to stakeholders wary of EU encroachment on Swiss affairs.

In its letter of last week, the Swiss government outlined its three chief concerns with the draft deal. These include concerns about the deal’s possible impact on Switzerland’s tough wage protection measures as well as a question mark over the future of state subsidies and a lack of clarity over whether the Alpine country will eventually have to adopt the EU’s Citizen’s Rights Directive.

In response, Juncker said he was “ready to dispel any doubts” about the framework agreement and was “open to any additional discussions” with Switzerland.

A June 18th deadline

But he said these had to result in “an agreement in coming days in form of one or several joint declarations on the clarifications concerned”.

An EU team would be on hand from “today on” to help deliver the necessary clarifications, Juncker wrote.

Read also: What you need to know about the draft Swiss–EU deal

But the EU Commission president stressed that the current deal “will not be renegotiated” and that any clarifications would need to be made in respect to the “letter and spirit” of the current draft deal.

He stressed it was up to both Switzerland and the EU “to proceed quickly” and sign off on the necessary clarifications so that EU commissioners could evaluate the general state of Swiss–EU relations during a key meeting on June 18th.

In a final note of warning, Juncker said it was impossible to predict what the fate of the framework agreement would be if the deal was not signed before his mandate ends in October.

No mention of stock market equivalence

The letter from the outgoing EU president did not mention the issue of so-called stock market equivalence.

An impatient EU has repeatedly attempted to put pressure on Switzerland to sign on to a framework agreement by threatening to remove its stock market equivalence – a move which would see EU-based trading platforms unable to buy and sell Swiss stocks. 

That equivalence was granted temporarily for 12 months at the end of 2017 and then again for another six months.

The current deadline for an extension to that equivalence is June 30th but the EU will need to act before that if another extension is forthcoming. 

Read also: Swiss residents 'biggest winners' from EU single market

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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