Neighbouring regions back Switzerland in row with EU over draft bilateral deal

Neighbouring regions back Switzerland in row with EU over draft bilateral deal
Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann was the driving force behind the letter to the EU. Photo: Silas Stein/dpa/AFP
The heads of nine German and French regions bordering Switzerland have used a letter to call for the de-escalation of tensions between Bern and Brussels over a stalled draft deal on the future of bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU.

In the carefully-worded letter addressed to the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and his soon-to-be successor Ursula von der Leyen, the heads of regions in Austria, France, Germany and Italy described recent developments as “a cause for great concern”.

They noted the current draft Swiss–EU deal was “just and fair” and said the EU’s decision in June to not extend recognition of the regulatory equivalence of Switzerland’s stock exchange threatened to derail relations between Switzerland and Brussels.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the draft Swiss–EU deal

The move from the EU has had little practical impact after the Swiss government rolled out measures to protect its exchange. But it does constitute a ramping up of EU pressure on Switzerland to sign the draft deal on bilateral relations which is currently on the table.

Negative economic for neighbouring regions

The regional leaders said a downward spiral in Swiss–EU relations could see the deal rejected by Swiss voters in a referendum, which would in turn have negative economic impacts for regions along Switzerland’s borders.

They called on the EU to act with prudence and caution and give Switzerland time to get all social groups involved – essential if the draft deal is going to win the backing of Swiss voters.

The letter from the heads of the regions of Vorarlberg and Tyrol in Austria, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-France-Comté and Grand Est in France, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in Germany and Val d'Aosta and Trentino -Alto Adige in Italy is a rare show of support for Switzerland from its EU neighbours.

Switzerland has 'few friends'

As former Swiss government minister Doris Leuthard noted in a sneak preview of an upcoming interview with Swiss national broadcaster RTS published on Wednesday, Switzerland does “does not have many friends” because it is neutral and “is not a member of the EU or Nato”.

The draft Swiss–EU deal, which was years in the making, was unveiled late in 2018. The EU has consistently pressured Bern to sign the deal designed to streamline and update bilateral relations between the bloc and Switzerland as quickly as possible.

But the Swiss government has argued it needs time to build political consensus before any deal goes before voters under Switzerland’s unique system of direct democracy.

In June, Bern called on Brussels for several clarifications including on the major sticking point of whether the deal would threaten Switzerland’s wage protection measures designed to protect the county’s high salaries.

Negotiations on this issue failed to bear fruit over the summer, according to government sources quoted by Swiss newspaper NZZ recently.

Fake news

Last week, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer appeared to suggest the deal with the EU was dead in the water. However, the minister – a member of Switzerland’s anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – later declared this was “fake news” and said he had merely been reiterating the position of the Swiss government that the deal in its current form would fail to win the necessary support in a referendum.

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