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EU member states chide Swiss trade and free movement barriers


Two years after it launched a review of its relationships with Switzerland, the Council has released its conclusions on the state of the EU’s deep and complex relationship with its small rich neighbour. Relations are good, but they need a framework and a fix in the area of agriculture and services, EU member states believe.

The EU-Swiss relationship went through a turbulent period following a referendum in which a small majority of Swiss citizens approved the idea of introducing immigration quotas for EU citizens. After significant pressure from the EU, Switzerland introduced legislation in 2016 that aims to improve labour market access to Swiss citizens without however putting in question acquired rights of EU citizens nor the principle of free movement. Switzerland also recently agreed to grant free movement rights to citizens from Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania – not least after having been suspended from EU research funding under the Horizon 2020 programme.

In ‘conclusions’ released on Tuesday (28 February 2017), member states reiterated the EU’s demand to negotiate with Switzerland a general institutional framework to manage the large number of bilateral sectorial agreements currently in place between the two parties.

“While today the bilateral trade relationship generally works smoothly to the benefit of both partners, there are a number of restrictions on access to the Swiss market for operators from the EU, notably in the agri-food and services sectors”, the Council deplores.

“These restrictions need to be addressed in order to remedy asymmetries in bilateral economic relations. The Council is concerned by an inconsistent application of certain agreements and the introduction by Switzerland of subsequent legislative measures and practices, at federal or cantonal level, that are incompatible with those agreements, in particular the [Free Movement of Persons Agreement]”, member states say.

“The Council calls upon Switzerland to abrogate such flanking measures and to refrain from adopting new measures incompatible with the Agreement”, the Council conclusions read.

The conclusions are the result of an EU drive to deepen and harmonise single market relationships with its European Economic Area and EFTA partners initiated in 2014.

Switzerland is by far one of the EU’s main trading partners. It ranks third after the United States and China. In 2015 bilateral trade amounted to €264 bn (£225 bn).