In May 2004, Switzerland and the European Union finalised a second set of bilateral accords at a meeting in Brussels. After a lengthy wrangling, the two sides signed an agreement on nine specific issues that included closer cooperation between the EU and Switzerland on security and asylum, the fight against international smuggling and customs fraud.
The European Union (EU) is the most important partner of Switzerland - politically, culturally and economically. The EU and Switzerland are founded on common fundamental values such as democracy, regard for human rights and a constitutional state. The EU is by far the most important trading partner of Switzerland: three-fifths of Swiss exports are sent to EU countries, while four-fifths of Swiss imports come from there.
European policy of the Federal Government
The key elements of Switzerl-and's European policy can be summarised as follows:
l In the short term, further implementation of the first seven bilateral agreements of 1999 will be the top priority.
l In the medium term, priority will be given to the implementation of the second bilateral negotiations that took place in May 2004.
l In the longer term, the objective of the federal government is to take Switzerland into the European Union.
Bilateral Agreements I
Switzerland has close contractual ties with the European Union. In 1999, the two parties signed a first set of bilateral agreements (known as Bilateral Agreements I) in the following seven areas:
l Free movement of persons;
l Land transport
l Air transport
l Trade in agricultural products
l Public procurement
l Technical barriers to trade.
These seven agreements were approved by a referendum in May 2000 and came into force on June 1, 2002. The results have proved to be very positive: both the sides now enjoy a better access to each other's labour, goods and services markets.
Bilateral Agreements II
The success of the Bilateral Agreements I led the Swiss and the EU to work on a second set of agreements ("Bilateral Agreements II"). Therefore, the two sides held talks in Brussels in May 2004 to discuss upon ten specific agreements, viz.:
l Processed agricultural products
l Education, occupational training, youth
l Taxation of savings
l Fight against customs fraud
l Increased cooperation in the fields of justice, policy, asylum and migration (Schengen accord)
The objectives of the Bilateral Agreements II are summarised as (i) closing the gaps in access to markets and (ii) having a closer cooperation on internal security and asylum.
Contrary to the first round of bilateral agreements, which took five years to negotiate, this latest round took just over two years. But it was characterised by wrangling between the two sides. While nine agreements were finalised, uncertainties still remain over the Schengen accord on cross border crime.
The final act will be the signing of the ten agreements, which is expected to take place in the autumn after the finishing touches have been applied. The process might be further delayed as the accords have to be translated into all the official languages of the EU, which have increased since the ten new members joined on May 1, 2004. It will be up to the European Council - which represents the member states' national governments - to give the package the final go-ahead. The accords should then come into force, and for the EU, at least, the process will come to an end.
But there are still some issues that need to be resolved and which could potentially threaten the success of these landmark agreements. For its part, the EU still has to finish negotiations with other external countries, especially with associated territories such as the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and others.
Ratification in Switzerland is also a big concern. Switzerland has yet to decide on the procedure for ratifying the accords - it could be that they will be put to referendum. The accord most under threat is the Schengen agreement. The rightwing Swiss People's Party has already announced its intention to hold a referendum on Schengen.
The question of Switzerland's entry
into the EU
The government of Switzer-land fixed three preconditions for the commencement of entry negotiations with the EU:
l Firstly: Switzerland wishes to gain experience with the seven bilateral agreements of 1999. It wants to see how these agreements will work out in practice.
l Secondly: The effects on central areas of Swiss statehood of joining the EU must be clarified with absolute certainty, and open questions must be answered convincingly. For Example, entry to the EU will in particular affect the Swiss federalism (distribution of responsibilities and competence and collaboration between the federal government and cantons) and direct democracy (people's rights).
l Thirdly: There needs to be broad domestic support for the objective of entry.
These three preconditions cannot be met overnight; they require time. Switzerland is unlikely to commence the entry negotiations with the EU during the current legislative period (2003 - 2007).