Relations Between the EU and Switzerland: Too Much to Lose, Too Little to Negotiate?

As the saying goes, for all the time of its peaceful existence, Switzerland has only produced the cuckoo clock. This is not correct, of course, both because the cuckoo clock was invented in Bavaria, and, more importantly, because Switzerland has contributed significantly to Europe’s political development. The country is not only the earliest and brightest example of republican and federal governance, but its legal and political ties with the EU have also created the entangled concept of bilateralism. This dynamic relationship has worked well for many years, so it may come as a surprise to discover how fragile it is, especially at a time when every deal must be sealed not only between reasonable counterparts but also with the approval of the respective electorates.

This paper examines how diplomatic dialogue between the EU and Switzerland has evolved since the beginning of the 1990s. Even though traditionally predictable and moderate, both partners have recently encountered difficulties in achieving a comprehensive trade and legal relationship. This would not have been an issue if the existing framework was still reliable, which is currently not the case. Over the past year and a half there has been increasing confusion as to why the EU and Switzerland cannot find agreement, as well as a demonstration of the adverse consequences of damaged trust. By explaining the context and the possible causes of the political stalemate, several takeaways are suggested as ways to resolve it successfully.

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