Foundations laid for successful Switzerland-EU negotiations: Insights from the EU Diplomat Natalie Sleeman
At our last Country Risk Conference held at the Widder Hotel in Zurich, we had an all-female panel which included Natalie Sleeman. She is the Head of EU Trade and Economic Affairs in Switzerland, and in this article, she explains the situation from the perspective of the EU.
During the conference, the primary focus was on analyzing relations between the European Union (EU) and Switzerland.
New negotiations on a package of agreements are due to resume in 2024 after Switzerland broke off the last round of talks in May 2021. The two parties have been holding exploratory and technical discussions since March 2022. “In this way, both sides have laid promising foundations for the upcoming negotiations”, Sleeman explains.
A lot of similarities between Switzerland and the European Union
During her talk, Natalie Sleeman emphsized that the EU and Switzerland are certainly not as different as some claims might have us believe. On the contrary, in fact; in addition to shared values, there are many parallels between the EU and Switzerland. For example, the federal structures are similar and both sides have mutual trade interests. Nevertheless, one finding from the previous round of negotiations was that both sides needed to better understand the opposing point of view. From the EU’s perspective, for example, Switzerland recently negotiated an excellent result for the country in the area of institutional issues.
Negotiations are on the way
The new negotiations could start as early as spring 2024. Swift action is important, according to Sleeman. After the 2024 EU elections, a new Commission will be appointed. If decisive steps have not been taken before they are put in place, there could be delays.
Sleeman points to two aspects to the process. First, the EU is ready to negotiate at any time. She has repeatedly expressed this in the past. Secondly, the structure of the EU is relevant: this means that an EU position is already a compromise within the framework of the member states. The EU would then not be able to offer a third country better conditions for participation in its internal market than its own member states.
In Switzerland, the Federal Council has drawn up the draft negotiating mandate and submitted it to parliament and the cantons for consultation on 15 December 2023. The EU is also yet to adopt its mandate. In October, the European Parliament had already spoken out in favour of the opening of new negotiations in a report.
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