Swiss leader suggests how to revive stalled treaty to EU’s von der Leyen

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga speaks during a news conference with Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset (not pictured) and Swiss Economic Minister Guy Parmelin (not pictured), as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bern, Switzerland

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga called European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday to outline Bern’s proposal to unblock a stalled bilateral treaty, von der Leyen said in a tweet.

“I took note and await further details. We need to make progress towards signing the IFA” (Institutional Framework Agreement) treaty, she added without elaborating.

The pact would formalise ties between non-EU member Switzerland and the 27-nation bloc now governed by a patchwork of 120 bilateral accords.

It focuses on five areas – free movement of people, civil aviation, land transport, mutual recognition of industrial standards and processed farm goods. Switzerland would agree to take on EU single market rules in these areas.

The Swiss government said on Wednesday it was resuming talks over the treaty, which was negotiated over four years but has languished while Bern tries to forge domestic consensus on how to proceed.

The government has given no details on its stance, but said in the past it wants clarifications on state aid, EU citizens’ access to Swiss welfare benefits and unilateral Swiss rules designed to protect high wages from competition by cross-border workers on temporary assignments.

Critics say it infringes so much on Swiss sovereignty that it would never win a referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

A Commission spokesman told a news briefing that von der Leyen awaited more information from the Swiss side.

“It’s only once we have those details that we will be able to start looking at what the next possible steps will be. I think what’s quite clear, as the president’s tweet said, we need to see swift progress and the signing of this framework agreement,” he added.

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