‘It takes two to tango’: EU doubts Switzerland’s will to cooperate on deal

The EU on Monday urged Switzerland to show whether it still wants a far-reaching cooperation agreement with the bloc, months after the Swiss government stormed away from the negotiation table.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic warned “it takes two to tango” following talks with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, the first high-level sit-down since years of negotiations suddenly collapsed in May.

EU-Swiss ties are currently governed by a patchwork of agreements, and for the past 13 years both sides have attempted to sign an overarching accord that would rule on all aspects of relations.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

But in a mirror of the bloc’s post-Brexit feuds with Britain, Swiss officials are reluctant to meet EU demands for budget contributions and alignment on European rules as the price to keep free access to the vast EU market.

The talks hit an impasse after the EU refused to budge on Swiss demands to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement from the pact.

“What we now need from Switzerland is the unambiguous political will to engage with us on the real issues that count and a credible timetable,” said Sefcovic.

“In other words, any political dialogue must be focused and substantial. It cannot be an empty shell,” he added.

Sefcovic said technical talks would intensify and he would meet his counterpart again next January in Davos with the aim of finalising a timetable and confirming that the talks were back on track.

Switzerland is the EU’s fourth biggest trading partner after China, the US and Britain. The EU is Switzerland’s biggest trading partner.

Sefcovic, a former Slovak MEP, also oversees the bloc’s tumultuous ties with London. The EU and UK are on the cusp of a damaging trade war over Northern Ireland and fishing rights.

Member comments

  1. Switzerland may be EU’s fourth largest export market but I bet it is the most profitable!

    EU needs the chf as somehow they managed to lose their second largest ATM

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‘Something rotten in Switzerland’: US accuses Swiss of aiding Russia’s war efforts

A US government body has said Switzerland is a destination for “war criminals and kleptocrats”, accusing the Swiss of aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine.

‘Something rotten in Switzerland’: US accuses Swiss of aiding Russia’s war efforts

The US Government’s Helsinki Commission, an independent body promoting human rights, military security and economic cooperation, said in a briefing on Thursday that Switzerland was “Putin’s assistant” in the Russian leader’s brutal war on Ukraine. 

At the centre of the allegations is the Swiss financial system, which the commission says has allowed the storage of dirty money. 

“Switzerland has long been known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats who hide their loot there, and is a leading pioneer of the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies” the briefing read. 

British financier Bill Browder, who has been a frequent critic of Putin, told the meeting that Switzerland was letting itself be corrupted by Putin. 

“Something is rotten in Switzerland” Browder said. 

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis rejected the allegations, saying they are untrue. 

Cassis has seen Switzerland impose a range of sanctions on Russians, including some living in Switzerland. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

One Russian oligarch living in the Swiss city of Geneva applied for social assistance after his accounts were frozen. 

‘We cannot find them’

While Switzerland has taken steps in recent years to shed its status as a destination for dodgy money, critics argue that the Swiss system still makes it difficult to trace funds. 

Swiss corruption expert Mark Pieth told RTS that Switzerland was still one of the world’s biggest destinations for illicit funds. 

“The problem is that oligarchs have funds in Switzerland and we cannot find them because they are behind so-called letterbox companies and offshore accounts” he said. 

“Places are hidden. This means that only certain specialised lawyers really know who the beneficial owners are and they are not obliged to provide the federal government with information.”

On April 28th, 2021, in his first State of the Union address as US president, Joe Biden referred to Switzerland as a “tax haven”.

His exact words were: “A lot of companies also evade taxes through tax havens in Switzerland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands”.

ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland actually a tax haven?

The Helsinki Commission is a group made up of politicians, government representatives and parliamentary experts.