Relations with the EU: The Federal Council examines new approaches to settling disputes

Press release, 31.01.2018

At its meeting on 31 January 2018, the Federal Council conducted an in-depth discussion on Swiss European policy. In particular, it discussed the current situation, the medium and long-term objectives of Swiss policy on the European Union (EU), and the way to proceed. The Federal Council would like to further develop Switzerland’s political and economic relations with the EU and for this reason is examining new approaches to settling disputes within the framework of negotiations. It is also mindful to develop solutions that find domestic support. In addition, it has appointed Roberto Balzaretti, currently head of the Directorate of International Law of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), as head of the Directorate of European Affairs (DEA). He will take up his new duties on 1 February 2018. In this capacity he will coordinate all the different negotiations under way with the EU. To carry out this task, he has been given the title of state secretary.

Puzzle Switzerland and EU
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For Switzerland as a country situated in the middle of Europe, its relationship with the EU is of fundamental importance. The Federal Council emphasised this at its meeting today. It is determined to consolidate and deepen Switzerland’s relations with the EU. In particular, it is aiming to obtain broad and secure access to the EU single market and greater legal security. The two aspects are connected: Switzerland has an interest in having access on a clear legal basis to those sectors of the EU single market that are important for the Swiss economy. In this light it is in Switzerland’s interests to regulate the institutional issues.

Safeguarding Switzerland’s long-term interests
In spite of recent progress in specific dossiers, negotiations failed so far – for reasons of both domestic and foreign policy – to resolve issues such as a mechanism for settling disputes. Solutions need to be found to safeguard Switzerland’s interests in the medium and long-term. These solutions must be both feasible from a foreign policy perspective and capable of achieving majority support in the domestic political process. The Federal Council therefore intends to make proposals to achieve progress in the negotiations.

Market access and legal security are connected
The Federal Council has discussed options that provide for the parallel negotiation of new agreements and the institutional relationship with the EU. Switzerland has a strong interest in building a solid and homogeneous legal basis to its relationship with the EU. Such a legal basis is of fundamental importance for Switzerland as a business location and for its financial sector. Technical issues such as recognition of equivalence for the Swiss stock exchange shouldn’t be politicized – in contrast of what was decided in December 2017. Regulation of the institutional issues would consolidate existing bilateral agreements in the area of reciprocal market access and build the basis for the further development of economic relations between Switzerland and the EU. The Federal Council will again clarify in which sectors Switzerland will aim to conclude new market access or cooperation agreements with the EU.

In its statement, the Federal Council has discussed new elements in the area of dispute settlement and has taken into consideration the new proposals made by the President of the European Commission during his visit to Bern on 23 November 2017.

Reorganisation within the FDFA
Owing to the existing challenges confronting Switzerland’s European policy, the Federal Council regards an adjustment to the current organisational structure of the FDFA as essential. This primarily involves grouping together those areas in the FDFA that deal with European affairs. The FDFA has been instructed to prepare by spring 2018 a draft of the necessary adjustments to the legal basis for an organisational restructuring.

In concluding, the Federal Council noted that the negotiations with the EU, especially the dossier on institutional issues, would be inaccessible for a large part of the general public owing to the highly technical nature of various aspects of it. For this reason, communication on European policy will be given special importance in the future. Coordination between the federal departments and ensuring consistency in statements to be made on EU matters will also be crucial. Roberto Balzaretti will take over with immediate effect the coordination of the entire negotiations with the EU from Pascale Baeriswyl, who, as state secretary and head of the Directorate of Political Affairs, will continue to be responsible for the other areas of the FDFA. In addition, Mr Balzaretti will take over the post of head of the Directorate of European Affairs as of 1 February 2018. The current head of the DEA, Ambassador Henri Gétaz, has been appointed Secretary-General of EFTA.

Address for enquiries:

FDFA Information
Tel. +41 58 462 31 53


The Federal Council
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs