National Council Committee supports draft EU negotiating mandate

Published: Tuesday, Jan 30th 2024, 17:00

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Switzerland should soon negotiate the future of bilateral relations with the EU. This is the opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council (FAC-N). Its majority welcomes the draft negotiating mandate in principle. The SVP, on the other hand, categorically rejects the draft mandate.

The APK-N backed the negotiating mandate by 16 votes to 9 with no abstentions, as its President Laurent Wehrli (FDP/VD) told the media in Bern on Tuesday. The majority considers the package approach to be expedient and believes it is important to stabilize and further develop relations with the EU.

No red lines

In its opinion, the commission makes recommendations to the federal government, for example on wage protection, international rail traffic and the planned electricity agreement. The clarifications and recommendations are not red lines, emphasized APK Vice-President Sibel Arslan (Greens/BS).

For example, the level of protection for wages and working conditions associated with the accompanying measures on the free movement of persons should remain guaranteed. Accordingly, the majority insists on exceptional solutions, for example regarding the reimbursement of expenses and the density of checks.

Cross-border measures against wage and social dumping should be better enforced. Switzerland should therefore seek association as a third country with the European Labor Authority, the tripartite European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the European Agency for Safety and Health Protection.

International rail traffic

According to the majority, a cooperation model with SBB should be the basic principle in international rail transport. The majority insists on local and industry-specific social standards. It should be possible to integrate foreign trains into the regular timetable and they should not weaken tariff integration.

For the electricity agreement, on the other hand, the majority are in favor of a solution with a regulated basic supply for households and SMEs. The aim is for households and small businesses to remain in the basic supply. A phased approach should also be examined with the EU and, if necessary, agreed.

Motions by the SVP parliamentary group not to accept the negotiating mandate and to prevent an institutional link to the EU were clearly rejected. The nine members of the SVP parliamentary group stood alone. Their representative Franz Grüter (SVP/LU) was not stingy with his criticism in front of the media.

What we have here is old wine in new bottles, enriched with regular cohesion payments, he said. These have not been quantified, but it can be assumed that regular sums in the billions will be involved. And the package still contains the dynamic adoption of law and binding legal interpretations by the European Court of Justice.

Referendum question open

According to the declaration on the draft mandate adopted by Bern and Brussels in December, the EU Court of Justice continues to interpret EU law. However, the scope of application is defined somewhat more narrowly than in the framework agreement, for which Bern broke off negotiations in May 2021. Switzerland is to be granted exceptions in the dynamic adoption of law in the internal market agreements.

The question of whether the outcome of the negotiations should be subject to an optional referendum or whether it should be put to a mandatory vote was left open by the APK-N, as was the question of whether only a popular majority or also a majority of the cantons should be required. It will be up to the Federal Council to clarify this as soon as the definitive negotiating mandate is available, said Wehrli.

The Commission had only decided on the basic support for the draft negotiating mandate, but not on the voting procedure and substantive issues. It is only a mandate and the outcome of the negotiations will be decisive.

"Sloppy work"

Commission Vice-President Sibel Arslan (Greens/BS) said that the APK-N did not want to rush ahead. The Political Institutions Committee should also deal with the issue. The SVP also intervened here. "They are trying to find reasons against a majority of the cantons," said Grüter - this time at a media conference organized by his parliamentary group.

SVP parliamentary group leader Thomas Aeschi (ZG) criticized the "submission treaty" and the "sloppy work" in the Commission. Many points are argued with pressure from the EU without having been thought through to the end.

The Federal Council presented its guidelines for negotiations in mid-December. A few days later, the EU Commission published its draft negotiating mandate. The declared aim on both the Swiss and the EU side is to be able to start negotiations in the spring. The position of the Council of States' Foreign Affairs Committee is expected in February.


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