19th September 2014

EU-Swiss relations formally cool

In February 2014, Swiss voters decided in a referendum that quotas on foreign workers are to be introduced by 2017. Since this is totally incompatible with the EU-Swiss free movement treaty, the Swiss government asked the EEAS to start a renegotiation process. Also, the Swiss government refused to include the most recent EU member – Croatia, into the still existing free movement framework. High Representative Ashton replied to Switzerland on behalf of the EU this summer stating that the free movements are non-negotiable. As a sort of retaliation against Swiss steps, Swiss universities were excluded from Erasmus+ just days before the school year´s start. An interim solution was put into place though – Swiss students´ studies in the EU are financed by the Swiss government and the Swiss government has to pay a special fee for every incoming EU student. This is, however, an absurd situation in practice favoring the Swiss students. EU students are the losing side since Erasmus places in Switzerland fell by 25% as a result of the EU´s measure. On the other hand, the Swiss government is willing to finance its students and therefore the number of outgoing Swiss students is set to increase this year.

To come with another measure, the EU announced the freezing of the electricity grid interconnector negotiations between the EU and Switzerland. Some 10% of EU electricity flow through Switzerland, making it an important transit country. Under present circumstances, though, transit is ineffective and administratively and technically complicated. Technical negotiations on the integration of electricity grids have started, but sources from DG Energy have indicated, that unless the political question of the free movement is resolved, no grid integration will take place.

The Swiss government will have the opportunity to regain a portion of international confidence after the controversial referendum as the conclusion of an ambitious fiscal information exchange agreement draws near.

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Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic