The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Further support for the Federal Council’s EU negotiation plans

Updated at 13 Feb 2024 4:50 pm

The Federal Council has received further support for the planned negotiations on Switzerland's relations with the EU. The majority of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States and the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Council support the draft negotiating mandate.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States (FAC-S) approved the thrust of the negotiating guidelines by 9 votes to 3 with one abstention, as reported by the parliamentary services on Tuesday. The Economic Affairs Committee of the National Council (WAK-N) did the same by 16 votes to 8.

Two yeses to the package approach

The WAK-N wants a constructive continuation of the bilateral approach, but is calling on the Federal Council not to conclude a treaty that provides for compensatory measures in other treaties. The APK-S was particularly critical of the closer institutional ties, the proposed dispute resolution mechanism and the Citizens' Rights Directive.

Both commissions support the package approach. For the APK-S, the integration of institutional rules into the market access agreements and the waiver of guillotine clauses in new agreements are advantages. It hopes to gain additional negotiating leverage - and the possibility of renouncing individual agreements in the event of dissatisfaction.

The APK-S insists on additional safeguards. The EU Citizens Directive, for example, should only be adopted with strict reference to the labor market. Unlawful or undesirable receipt of social benefits must be prevented.

The principle of "equal pay for equal work in the same place" must apply to workers posted to Switzerland, including for expenses. If this is not possible, a Swiss solution must be found domestically, in line with the practice of other EU states.

Skepticism about electricity agreement

Both committees criticized the planned electricity agreement. Several APK members were critical of the inclusion of electricity trading and electricity production in the negotiations.

In the opinion of the Council of States Committee, the electricity agreement must focus on cooperation on grid stability, electricity trading and security of supply. It must be ensured that private households and SMEs have the choice between the free market and remaining in the protected basic supply.

The National Council Committee, on the other hand, wants to make it the rule for households and SMEs to remain in the basic supply. It recommends that the Federal Council refrain from further liberalization of the electricity market.

In turn, the APK-S demands that Swiss production forms and capacities in the electricity sector must be contractually secured. This also applies to the awarding of concessions. The WAK-N wants to exclude electricity production from the negotiating mandate.

The WAK-N adopted recommendations on the electricity agreement by a narrow majority. For example, the negotiating mandate should be limited to Switzerland's integration into the European electricity grid and thus to grid stability and, if necessary, electricity trading. Subsidies for electricity trading and production should not be subject to the agreement.

When updating the overland transport agreement, the APK-S believes that national transport must not be impaired and train paths must be secured for it. If several companies compete for the use of the network for national transport, Switzerland should decide.

Limiting the competence of the ECJ

In the opinion of the APK-S, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must be clearly limited. The ECJ may only become indirectly involved in the interpretation of EU law concepts if necessary at the request of the arbitration tribunal. The arbitration tribunal must be able to decide conclusively whether the ECJ is called upon.

The rapid and permanent full association of Switzerland to the "Horizon" research program and the "Erasmus+" exchange program is a concern of the APK-S, as well as the cantonal governments. The National Council's sister committee also supports the Federal Council's negotiation plans.

©Keystone/SDA

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