Referenda in Switzerland back closer EU-Swiss co-operation, October 2005

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Publication Date October 2005
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In two referenda - in June and September 2005 - the Swiss population agreed to the ratification of the so called second Bilateral Agreements with the European Union. This bilateral strategy of integration is regarded by many in the Confederation as a viable and the more realistic alternative to Swiss EU membership.

Situated in the heart of Europe, surrounded by EU Member States, Switzerland has long had a special relationship with the European Union.

In May 1992, the Swiss Government formally apllied for accession to what was then still the European Community. However, in December of the same year the country's population rejected the accession to the European Economic Area (EEA), a separate move which practically extended the Single Market to the other Member States of EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, which all agreed to join.

As a consequence to the lost EEA referendum the Swiss Government decided to suspend negotiations on accession to the European Community. Although it is currently not realistic that they are going to be relaunched in the near future, the application has not been formally withdrawn. Recently the Swiss People's party has called for this to be done.

As an alternative to accession, EU-Swiss relations have been subsequently advanced through the conclusion of a number of bilateral agreements. In practice these have led to a high level of integration with the European Union across a number of diverse fields.

Negotiations on the first round of Bilateral Agreements began in 1994 and were concluded in 2000. The Agreements, which were accepted by the Swiss in a referendum in May 2000, cover issues such as the free movement of persons, trade, transport and research and entered into force on 1 June 2002.

It was decided to initial a second round of agreements in the same month the first Bilateral came into effect. In addition to a number of 'leftovers' from the first round the main areas of concern were the taxation of savings and co-operation on matters of immigration and asylum. Under these Second Bilateral Agreements, which were signed in Luxembourg in October 2004, Switzerland will take part in the EU's Schengen co-operation (on the free movement of persons) and the Dublin Convention (on the responsibility for asylum applications). It was also agreed to deepen co-operation in the fight against fraud - covering serious offences relating to indirect taxation such as smuggling, customs fraud and VAT fraud - while safeguarding Switzerland's banking secrecy.

Two of the Bilateral Agreements had to be subjected to popular referenda in Switzerland before ratification could go ahead. On 5 June 2005 54.6% voted in favour of their countries participation in the Schengen and Dublin co-operation. In a second referendum 56% of voters agreed to the extension of the free movement of persons to the ten new EU Member States which had joined the EU in 2004. Ratification is now up to the European Union in what might be a lengthy procedure because some of the agreements not only involve the EU's institutions but also the Member States.

In separate developments the EU and Switzerland are negotiating on the mutual recognition of national rules on products (Cassis de Dijon principle) and Switzerland's financial contribution to the EU's cohesion policy.

EU: Legislation and Policy Making

Council: Agreement between the European Union [...] and the Swiss Confederation on the Swiss Confederation's association with the implementation, application and development of the Schengen acquis
Council: Council Decision [...] Agreement between the European Community and the Swiss Confederation on requests for asylum lodged in a Member State or in Switzerland
Council: Press Release: No.12896/04, Signature of a number of agreements with the Swiss Confederation, 26.10.04

EU: Background

European Commission: SCADplus: Taxation: Taxation of savings income
European Commission: DG External Relations: Countries: EU relations with Switzerland: a special case
European Commission: SCADplus: Fraud: Agreement with the Swiss Confederation

National/regional/local official organisation

Switzerland: Integration Office DFA/DEA
Switzerland: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs: Topics: Swiss Foreign Policy: European policy
Switzerland: Integration Office DFA/DEA: Bilateral Agreements II
Switzerland: Integration Office DFA/DEA: Bilateral Agreements II: Texts Bilateral Agreements II Switzerland-EU from 25 October 2004

Commercial publisher and media

Financial Times, 6.6.05: Swiss narrowly support closer ties with EU
Swiss Broadcasting Corporation: Swiss Dossiers: Extension of the free movement of people
Swiss Broadcasting Corporation: Swiss Dossiers: Bilateral agreements with the European Union
Swiss Broadcasting Corporation: Swiss Dossiers: Schengen/Dublin
Swiss Broadcasting Corporation: Swiss Info: Swiss Info Specials: Country profile: Switzerland and the EU
BBC News: Switzerland backs EU labour rules, 25.9.05
Financial Times, 4.6.05: Referendum tests Swiss attitude to Europe
Financial Times, 26.9.05: Swiss vote for closer links with EU
The Economist, No.8430, 11.6.05: Switzerland and the EU: One country says yes
European Voice, Vol.11, No.33, 22.9.05: Vote could cause EU-Switzerland crisis
The Economist, No.8396, 9.10.04: Charlemagne: The Norwegian option
BBC News: Vote takes Switzerland closer to EU, 5.6.05
BBC News: Swiss vote to ease border control, 5.6.05
Financial Times: Special Report, 24.5.05: Relations with EU top the agenda

Related Topic Guides / In Focus

European Sources Online: In Focus: Switzerland and the European Union, March 2001

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