Swiss President heads to EU damage control summit

By on April 22, 2021 0

Guy Parmelin, President of the Swiss Confederation, attends a press conference on the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland, March 12, 2021. REUTERS / Denis Balibouse

Swiss President Guy Parmelin is traveling to Brussels on Friday for a summit with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on a stalled treaty that threatens to deeply freeze relations between Switzerland and its biggest trading partner.

Many Swiss business leaders who want continued and smooth access to the EU market want a treaty, but political resistance to the deal leaves Parmelin little leeway to strike a deal after years of lagging behind in Bern.

That could leave Parmelin, a member of the Eurosceptic Swiss People’s Party, the largest in parliament, in damage control mode when he meets von der Leyen, who urged Berne to finally pass the draft deal negotiated in 2018.

The Swiss cabinet said it wanted clarification on some open points before approving the pact, and officials in Brussels want concrete suggestions from Parmelin, a source familiar with the talks said.

Parmelin said in a newspaper interview over the weekend that he would seek to move the discussion forward without bombardment.

“I will not play Boris Johnson,” he said, referring to the British leader’s boastful stance on relations with the EU when Britain left the bloc.

The treaty would oblige non-EU Switzerland to systematically adopt single market rules and provide a more efficient way to resolve disputes. Critics say it violates Swiss sovereignty so much that it will never survive a binding referendum. L8N2MD5I1

Failure to reach an agreement would leave in place a patchwork of sectoral agreements that govern bilateral relations, but prevent Switzerland from any further access to the single market, dashing plans for an electricity union, for example.

Even existing agreements will erode over time. An agreement that facilitates cross-border trade in medical technology products expires in May, for example, and Swiss scientists fear they will be excluded from the European research program Horizon.

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