Livia Leu: “The European Union has understood that we remain a neutral country”

Livia Leu was in Brussels last Wednesday. This was the second meeting between the State Secretary in the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and representatives of the European Union (EU) since the Federal Council ended negotiations on the framework agreement and proposed a new “negotiating package” to regulate Swiss-EU relations EU. The Federal Council advocates a sector-by-sector approach, which contradicts a uniform agreement desired by Brussels. A pill that Livia Leu is responsible for swallowing the European authorities. The reports on his visit to Brussels allow for the most contradictory interpretations. The highest diplomat in the Confederation has the floor.

It has been almost a year since the Federal Council gave up a framework agreement with the European Union. What progress has been made since then?

Livia Leu: Since its decision, the Federal Council has shown constant interest in the development of the bilateral path. In concrete terms, he tried to establish a new one
dynamic with the second federal contribution, which was swiftly approved by Parliament in September 2021. Unfortunately, the European Union has not yet followed up on this constructive gesture: it has not yet promoted Switzerland’s re-association with Horizon Europe (scientific research programs of the member states). Red.). In February of this year, the Federal Council decided on the main features of an extended package, for example with additional agreements in the areas of electricity, health and food safety. He also considered a continuation of the Swiss contribution, as requested by the EU. Switzerland is ready to change the static nature of the agreements in favor of a dynamic recovery, provided its interests are protected. This means that its specificity as a third country with sectoral access to the internal market of the European Union is taken into account.

On your second trip to Brussels, were you disappointed by the European response?

no We are in a procedure specific to each negotiation preparation. Both sides should conduct soundings to see if there is potential room for negotiation. It takes some time.

It seems that Brussels is ready to show signs of openness. Did you see her last week?

The EU has asked us to come up with new concrete proposals. You have to position yourself now. Resuming discussions on the thematic agreements discussed in recent years should be easier than the constitutional issue. The EU supports the provisions of the framework agreement, but is aware that version 2.0 is not an option for the Bundesrat.

Also read: Talks between Switzerland and the EU are still hitting the same walls

So you were feeling pretty closed off, right?

It will require a little more flexibility. Let’s hope that it will prevail given the geopolitical situation in Europe.

Can Bern’s resumption of sanctions against Russia positively influence our relations with the EU?

They are rated very positively by Brussels, as is Switzerland’s humanitarian aid and the reception of refugees. These are proofs of belonging to the same community of states. In early March, Ursula Van der Leyen called the President of the Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, to say thank you. Switzerland is part of working groups on sanctions and financial issues related to oligarchs’ assets. The exchange therefore takes place regularly. However, market access issues require specific rules for this area and are therefore discussed in other forums.

Has the crisis Europe is experiencing from Ukraine’s aggression impacted your negotiating mission with the EU?

Since the outbreak of this war, Europe has been in a deep crisis, particularly in the areas of security and energy. The recognition shown to us made me feel like we are part of the same family.

So the negotiations with Switzerland didn’t take second place to Brussels’ interests?

The EU asked us to come up with new proposals, which we did. If she’s ready to move forward, so are we.

Also read: In Brussels, Livia Leu is looking for a fresh start in bilateral relations

After their last meeting, the EU issued a statement saying it did not know whether the Swiss proposals provided a basis for future negotiations. Did they give you a date when they will find out?

They analyze our proposals. The answer shouldn’t take too long. At least that’s my expectation.

What will be the next steps?

The EU can come back and say that it is necessary to clarify this or that point. Or make other suggestions. The definition of the negotiation framework may still take some time.

Has Brexit made the situation in Switzerland more difficult?

The UK has become a third country trying to build a new relationship. But this situation of divorce differs from the ‘living together’ that we experience with the EU. We have a sectoral access to the European market that the UK no longer has.

Did the EU use this situation in the negotiations with Bern?

Absolutely.

The question of neutrality is troubling people in Switzerland. Do your contacts in Brussels still regard us as a neutral country?

In addition to discussions about bilateral relations in business and research, I met Stefano Sannino, Secretary General of Josep Borrell (EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, d. editor). We talked about the war in Ukraine. The question of neutrality affects not only Switzerland, but also EU member states such as Sweden and Finland, which have expressed an interest in joining NATO. As for the EU sanctions, this is far from the first time Switzerland has taken them up. The EU has understood that we remain a neutral country.

Are you optimistic after this second trip to Brussels?

As a diplomat, I am an optimist by profession! We have a very good basis for cooperation. We need to be able to find each other. Complex issues still need to be resolved, particularly in the area of ​​free movement of persons. But reaching an agreement is important for both sides.

Is freedom of movement still the most sensitive point?

It is a key issue for the EU as it is important for Switzerland. 1.4 million Europeans live in Switzerland, compared to 400,000 Swiss in the EU. In addition, there are 340,000 cross-border commuters every day. Access to the Swiss labor market is therefore attractive.

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Is a government-level meeting realistically conceivable this summer?

This meeting will be useful when the reflections carried out at this time are well advanced. We will then see how many rounds of exploration will be necessary. I would say that the moment of this meeting matters less than its content.

The federal elections at the end of 2023 are already on everyone’s lips. Aren’t you afraid that the European file will be misused by the parties for election issues?

Party politics is still present in Bern. The Federal Council gave important impetus to this dossier, dispelling the fear of waiting for the 2023 elections, he wanted to move forward. Which makes me optimistic for the future. If it is possible to establish a joint agenda with the EU and formulate a negotiating mandate, the parties would be involved through their presence in the parliamentary foreign policy committees.

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