Federal Council approves draft negotiating mandate with European Union

At its meeting on 15 December, the Federal Council approved the draft negotiating mandate with the European Union (EU). The mandate sets out guidelines for the negotiations, which will get under way once the mandate is definitively adopted, after consultation with Parliament and the cantons.

15.12.2023

In the course of the current talks, Switzerland and the EU have reached a common understanding regarding the Federal Council's package approach. For more background and information on the talks, which started in March 2022, visit the news ticker here. © FDFA

15.12.2023 – Federal Council approves draft negotiating mandate with European Union

The draft negotiating mandate is based on the parameters approved by the Federal Council on 21 June this year, as well as the outcomes of the exploratory talks with the EU and the discussions held with social and economic partners in Switzerland. It sets out the guidelines to be followed by the Swiss delegation in each component of the negotiating package.

The FDFA has been instructed to conduct consultations on this document with the Foreign Affairs Committees and other interested committees of the Parliament as well as the cantons, in collaboration with the FDHA, the FDJP, the FDF, the EAER and DETEC. The social and economic partners will be invited to comment.

In addition, the Federal Council adopted the report on the exploratory talks. The report sets out the objective of the talks, details the outcomes, and reports on the internal process that is already taking place in Switzerland and will continue until the end of the talks with the EU.

The Federal Council's primary objective is to consolidate and further develop the bilateral path with the EU. To this end, on 25 February 2022, the federal government decided to adopt a comprehensive approach based on a package of cooperation and market access agreements. Compared with the institutional agreement – which the Federal Council terminated in 2021 – the package allows greater flexibility and scope for action to safeguard Switzerland's interests during the negotiations.

Federal Council’s package approach

Switzerland is seeking to further develop its relations with the EU. The Federal Council therefore developed and adopted new proposals for solutions in the form of the package approach in February 2022:

  • Instead of regulating institutional issues in an agreement that provides the framework for other agreements (horizontal approach), these issues are to be resolved individually in each agreement (sectoral approach).
  • Instead of one agreement, an entire package of agreements should be discussed, providing a more balanced solution overall. This allows for a broad balance of interests and increases the chances of success of any negotiations.

Switzerland would like to participate in EU programmes and be able to conclude new agreements, for example on electricity, on food safety and on health.

In individual agreements, Switzerland needs exceptions and safeguard clauses in order to be able to protect its essential interests. In the case of the free movement of persons, it must be ensured that further developments in EU law do not lead to immigration into the social system, that wage and working conditions are not undermined and that constitutionality is guaranteed.

The demand for exceptions stems from the fact that Switzerland is not a member of the EU and therefore neither demands the same rights nor has the same obligations as an EU member state. Switzerland seeks to achieve – while preserving its political autonomy – broad-based participation in the EU's single market.  

Exploratory talks with the European Commission

With the Federal Council's decision on the package approach, State Secretary Livia Leu was mandated to explore this approach with the European Commission. In these exploratory talks, the potential of the new approach is being sounded out – an indispensable preparation for any negotiations. On 17 June 2022, the Federal Council decided to intensify the exploratory talks. Since then, talks have also been held at the technical level on free movement of persons and state aid. The aim of the exploratory talks is to find out whether there is a sufficiently solid basis on which to begin negotiations. 

InstA: the points of contention

For Switzerland, differences on the following essential points were insurmountable:

  • the threat to the tried and tested protection against wage dumping (accompanying measures);
  • the feared increase in EU social welfare recipients and the impossibility of being able to withdraw residence rights or deport persons convicted of criminal offences (EU Citizens’ Rights Directive);
  • open questions concerning the regulation of state aid (level playing field)

Institutional agreement

No signing of Swiss–EU institutional agreement, 26.05.2021

Domestic political support

The success of any negotiations depends not only on their outcome but also on their broad political acceptance domestically. The Federal Council has therefore been holding regular talks with the most important domestic political stakeholders in Switzerland, in addition to the exploratory talks. With a newly created sounding board, it has strengthened dialogue with social partners and the business community in particular. The exchanges with Parliament, the cantons and political parties has been institutionalised for some time. Close coordination within the Federal Administration is ensured by a steering group with representatives from all departments and the Federal Chancellery.

Switzerland and the EU: closely linked

 A graphic illustrates the relationship between Switzerland and the EU.
Intensive exchange between Switzerland and the EU: thousands of people live, work and study in Switzerland and the EU. © FDFA

Switzerland and the EU are closely intertwined and share the same fundamental values, as illustrated by the following examples:

  • The EU is by far our most important trading partner, with around half of our exports going to the EU and about two thirds of our imports coming from the EU.
  • Switzerland is one of the EU's biggest trading partners, and the EU is Switzerland's biggest trading partner. In 2021, Switzerland was the EU's third most important trading partner in services, after the US and the UK.
  • At the end of September 2022, 374,000 cross-border commuters were working in Switzerland. Or seen from the other perspective, Switzerland obtained 374,000 workers from the EU/EFTA.
  • Cooperation in research: among third countries, Switzerland was the biggest contributor to the EU budget in 2014–19 with EUR 2.2 billion, 80% of which was devoted to research and innovation.
  • With the construction of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) at a cost of around CHF 23 billion, Switzerland has significantly increased capacities for environmentally friendly freight transport and smooth trade in the EU single market.
  • The EU and Switzerland share the most important basic political values ('community of values'): the unconditional commitment to human rights, to an open and liberal society, to a pluralistic democracy with freedom of expression and a free press, and to free trade as a driver for prosperity and stability. This is particularly important in times of war and the rise of authoritarian forces. 

Regulated relations between Switzerland and the EU are important, providing both with a guarantee of prosperity and stability.

27.11.2023 – Switzerland and the EU have decided to strengthen their dialogue on security and defence policy

The annual consultations will take place for the first time in their new format on 27 November 2023. They will enable a regular political exchange on all areas of security cooperation between Switzerland and the EU, ensuring consistent follow-up on the various dossiers.

EU-Switzerland hold first structured Security and Defence Dialogue and mediation talks (PDF, 1 Page, 115.5 kB, English)

21.11.2023 – Secretary Alexandre Fasel meets EU counterpart Stefano Sannino

State Secretary Alexandre Fasel was received by the secretary-general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Stefano Sannino, in Brussels on 21 November for the biannual consultations on foreign and security policy. In this context, Mr Fasel and Mr Sannino agreed to establish a structured dialogue on security and defence, with the aim of strengthening cooperation in this area. They also discussed the topic of cooperation and solidarity in response to current crises, and exchanged views on various multilateral issues.

In an international context marked by a number of simultaneous conflicts and the need for greater cooperation between partners sharing the same values, Switzerland and the EU have decided to strengthen their dialogue on security and defence policy. Mr Fasel and Mr Sannino agreed on this pattern today in Brussels.

Press release, 21.11.2023

08.11.2023 – Federal Council instructs FDFA to prepare mandate for negotiations with European Union

At its meeting on 8 November 2023, the Federal Council reviewed the outcomes of the exploratory talks with the EU and the work undertaken within Switzerland, and instructed the FDFA to prepare a draft negotiating mandate together with the departments concerned. It has informed the European Commission of this decision.

The Swiss–EU exploratory talks towards establishing a solid common basis for future negotiations came to an end on 27 October. Launched in March 2022, they covered all the components of the Federal Council's package approach.

In parallel, over the last few months the Federal Council has pursued discussions with the cantons, social partners and the business community, in particular on wage protection and state aid. Sufficient progress has been made to date to make it possible to prepare a draft negotiating mandate.

Federal Council confers mandates for next steps

The Federal Council also mandated the EAER to pursue, in cooperation with the FDFA and the FDJP, the technical discussions with social partners and the cantons on internal measures that could safeguard current wage levels in Switzerland.

DETEC, in cooperation with the EAER and the FDFA, has been instructed to initiate discussions with the electricity sector, the cantons and social partners on internal measures to implement an electricity agreement.

With regard to overland transport, DETEC, in cooperation with the EAER and the FDFA, has also been instructed to continue discussions with social partners and the Swiss Federal Railways (the SBB) on international rail passenger services and state aid issues.

Federal Council decision by the end of the year

The Federal Council will decide by the end of the year whether to adopt the draft negotiating mandate and submit it for consultation to Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committees (FACs) and the Conference of Cantonal Governments (CCG). The Federal Council will continue to involve Parliament, the cantons, social partners, the business community and other key stakeholders closely in the next stages of the process.

Press release, 08.11.2023

Information, questions and answers relating to public services in the context of the package approach (PDF, 5 Pages, 491.7 kB, English)

21.09.2023 – First visit of State Secretary Alexandre Fasel to Brussels

State Secretary Alexandre Fasel met Juraj Nociar, Head of Cabinet of EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, in Brussels. In addition to getting to know each other, Alexandre Fasel used his first visit to Brussels as State Secretary to take stock of the talks between Switzerland and the EU to date. "Technical talks were resumed at the end of August and have been intense since then," Fasel said. If the talks with the EU and internal work continue to progress well, the Federal Council will prepare to adopt a negotiating mandate by the end of the year, he said.

Alexandre Fasel stands next to Juraj Nociar and speaks to him.
State Secretary Alexandre Fasel (l.) in conversation with Juraj Nociar, Head of Cabinet of EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. © FDFA

18.07.2023 – Ignazio Cassis meets with Maroš Šefčovič in Brussels

The visit forms part of the regular exchanges between Mr Cassis and Mr Šefčovič since the latter's visit to Bern in March.

Mr Cassis and Mr Šefčovič took note of the progress made in the discussions held by the Swiss and EU delegations at technical and diplomatic level. They addressed the outstanding issues and the efforts required to resolve them over the coming months.

Ignazio Cassis and Maroš Šefčovič shake hands. The Swiss and European flags are in the background.
Ignazio Cassis, head of the FDFA, has met with Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission's vice-president. © FDFA

Against this backdrop, Mr Cassis reaffirmed Switzerland's determination to bring these discussions to a successful conclusion and to find solutions capable of generating a broad support among the main stakeholders in Switzerland with a view to adopting a negotiating mandate.

Mr Cassis and Mr Šefčovič also reaffirmed their commitment to continue providing positive momentum to the process. They agreed to maintain regular contact.

Switzerland will pursue its discussions with the EU on the basis of the parameters of a negotiating mandate approved by the Federal Council on 21 June. The Federal Council will reassess the situation again in the autumn.

Press release, 18.07.2023

28.06.2023 – Alexandre Fasel appointed new State Secretary in the FDFA

At its meeting on 28 June 2023, the Federal Council appointed Alexandre Fasel as the new State Secretary at the FDFA. Ambassador Alexandre Fasel is currently Special Representative for Science Diplomacy in International Geneva. He succeeds Livia Leu Agosti, who will move to Berlin as Swiss Ambassador in November 2023.

Press release

21.06.2023 – Federal Council adopts parameters for EU negotiating mandate

At its meeting of 21 June 2023, the Federal Council reviewed the current situation regarding European policy and adopted the parameters for a negotiating mandate with the EU. The Federal Council will continue talks with the EU based on these guidelines and with a focus on clarifying outstanding issues. It will then prepare to adopt a negotiating mandate by the end of the year if the talks and work to be carried out in the Federal Administration continue to progress well.

The Federal Council's adoption of these parameters is a crucial step in its package approach. The parameters set out the areas to be covered by a new mandate, its general and specific objectives, as well as the potential leeway to safeguard Swiss interests. There are also sub-objectives for each area. The parameters are confidential as they may become the focus of future negotiations.

Wide-ranging cooperation with the EU: Federal Council's package approach

The package approach is intended to enable Switzerland to secure its access to the single market and mutual cooperation with the EU. It includes the sectors already covered by the existing agreements – free movement of persons, land and air transport, agriculture and technical barriers to trade – as well as three new agreements on energy, food safety and health.

The new energy agreement should address grid stability and supply issues; the new food safety agreement would remove further barriers to trade; and the aim of a public health agreement would be to ensure cooperation in managing cross-border health risks like COVID. Switzerland is also seeking to resolve the impasse regarding Horizon Europe 2020 and, going forward, to ensure participation in programmes in the areas of research and innovation (Horizon and follow-up programmes), education (Erasmus+) and space (including Copernicus).

If the overall result is satisfactory, the Federal Council is open to make a regular solidarity-based contribution to cohesion and stability in Europe, with the aim of meeting common challenges.

The Federal Council is adopting a vertical approach by sector to settle institutional issues with the EU. It proposes that the dynamic adoption of law developments and dispute settlement can be addressed pragmatically in any single market agreement, old or new. It also involves the Federal Council negotiating exceptions and principles with the EU in order to safeguard Switzerland's essential interests. The many discussions held at technical, diplomatic and political level over the last 12 months show that such an approach in the interests of Switzerland is possible, providing greater legal certainty and predictability for individuals and businesses as well as stabilising and developing Swiss-EU relations.

The Federal Council's package approach: what's next

At today's meeting, the Federal Council instructed the FDFA, working with the EAER and the FDJP, to continue discussions with the EU in order to consolidate the common ground. Instructions for discussions at technical level were also issued. In the autumn, the Federal Council will assess the progress and decide whether to prepare for the adoption of a negotiating mandate by the end of the year.

Against the backdrop of the current geopolitical situation, smooth cooperation with the EU is essential. Switzerland and the EU are closely interconnected and share the same basic values. The EU is Switzerland's main trading partner by far – around half of Swiss exports go to the EU, and about two thirds of imports into Switzerland come from the EU. Well-regulated relations between Switzerland and the EU are essential, and guarantee prosperity and stability for both sides.

Press release

Factsheet “Parameters” (PDF, 2 Pages, 327.2 kB, English)

Factsheet “Package Approach” (PDF, 1 Page, 234.9 kB, English)

17.06.2023 – Federal Council intends to step up exploratory talks with the EU

At its European policy retreat on 17 June 2022, the Federal Council was briefed on the status of the exploratory talks between Switzerland and the EU. The Federal Council decided on this basis to step up the exploratory talks with the EU. It also took note of the final report on the removal of regulatory differences between Swiss and EU law. The scope for action and possible solutions identified in the final report will be taken into consideration in further exploratory talks with the EU.

Press release

30.05.2023 – Tenth round of exploratory talks between Livia Leu and Juraj Nociar

Today, on the occasion of the tenth round of exploratory talks, State Secretary Livia Leu and Juraj Nociar, the head of the cabinet of the European Commission's vice-president, took stock of the work completed to date. On the basis of the technical and exploratory talks held thus far, the two parties confirmed in Brussels that progress has been made in a number of areas. Common ground is possible, particularly in the areas of state aid and the free movement of persons.

At this stage in the exchanges between Switzerland and the EU, the aim is reconcile foreign and domestic policy interests.

On this basis, the Federal Council will discuss the broad parameters of a negotiating mandate at the end of June and determine the next steps in the process. Defining these parameters is crucial, as they will determine the framework and core components of the negotiating mandate. They will also set the objectives the Federal Council wishes to achieve during the negotiations. Domestic and foreign policy interests will be taken into account and incorporated.

Even after the discussion in the Federal Council at the end of June, talks with the EU will continue in order to clarify open questions with a view to a possible future negotiating mandate. 

10.05.2023 – Livia Leu named Swiss ambassador to Germany

After three years as head of the FDFA's State Secretariat, Livia Leu is transferring to Berlin at her own request. The Federal Council appointed Leu as chief negotiator with the EU in October 2020. As state secretary, she was responsible for renegotiating the institutional agreement with the EU in 2021. After these negotiations were concluded, Leu set the general direction of a new negotiating package with the EU, which the Federal Council adopted in February 2022. She has been conducting exploratory talks with the EU on this basis since then, and has thus played a key role in getting the talks between Switzerland and the EU off to a new start.

Press release

20.04.2023 – Ninth round of exploratory talks between State Secretary Livia Leu and Juraj Nociar, head of cabinet of the Vice-President of the European Commission

The delegations have undertaken a strategic stocktake of all the issues to be covered in the exploratory talks and discussed next steps on this basis. The aim is to establish common ground across all areas of the package, creating a sound basis for possible future negotiations. At its retreat on 29 March, the Federal Council noted the positive momentum in the talks between Switzerland and the EU at the technical, diplomatic and political levels. The visit of Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič to Switzerland on 15 March also played a part in this. The Federal Council also decided that key parameters outlining the interests involved, objectives and content of a potential negotiation mandate should be drawn up by the end of June. These will provide a framework for the preliminary work to be undertaken. Clearly, Switzerland needs to secure exceptions to protect its essential interests. At the same time, national unity is needed in searching for solutions that can command broad support further down the line. The next round of exploratory talks will take place on 30 May 2023.

29.03.2023 – Federal Council decides on next steps regarding negotiating mandate

Today, the Federal Council took note of the status of the talks between EU and Swiss representatives and made an in-depth domestic and foreign policy assessment. The Federal Council notes that there is a positive momentum in the talks between Switzerland and the EU at the technical, diplomatic and political levels. The task now is to work out solutions for the remaining outstanding issues, in order to establish common ground for the preparation of a negotiating mandate. The Federal Council has instructed the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), in close cooperation with the cantons and the social partners, to draw up proposals that enable the current level of protections on the domestic labour market to be secured with supplementary measures.

Based on the positive momentum across the board between Switzerland and the EU, the Federal Council has instructed the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), in cooperation with the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) and the EAER, to draw up the key parameters of a negotiation mandate by the end of June. At the same time, the state secretary of the FDFA, Livia Leu, has been given the task of finalising the common basis for future negotiations as part of the ongoing talks with the EU. The next round of exploratory talks is scheduled for 20 April in Brussels. Technical talks with the EU continue to take place on a weekly basis.

Press release

15.03.2023 – Switzerland and EU in dialogue: Šefčovič and Cassis exchange views in Bern

  • Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis met with the Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič on 15 March 2023 in Berne.
  • The meeting took place in the context of the first visit of Mr. Šefčovič to Switzerland in his capacity as responsible for EU-Swiss relations.
  • The exchange between Mr. Cassis and Mr. Šefčovič provided an opportunity to take stock at political level of the exploratory process between Switzerland and the European Union (EU) started in March 2022 as well as to discuss the next steps.
  • Mr. Cassis and Mr. Šefčovič acknowledged and appreciated the work so far by the Swiss and European Commission delegations during the exploratory talks led by State Secretary Livia Leu and head of the Vice-President’s cabinet Juraj Nociar and during the related technical talks.
  • The delegations’ work has produced concrete outcomes. Switzerland and the EU have in fact sharpened their common understanding and have come closer together in several areas over the past few months.
  • The work towards a common understanding between Switzerland and the European Commission on all structural issues has achieved some progress and a better shared understanding on a number of issues.
  • Foreign Minister Cassis highlighted that the exploratory process with the EU has been accompanied in Switzerland by extensive internal consultations with relevant stakeholders, including the cantons, the economic sector, the trade unions and the political parties.
  • Mr. Cassis underlined that this important, inclusive approach has facilitated the search for solutions and strengthened the process. It has also demonstrated Switzerland’s commitment to achieving concrete and durable outcomes that would be viable for both Switzerland and the EU.
  • Mr. Cassis and Mr. Šefčovič took note that despite the progress made so far, a number of outstanding issues remain, which will require efforts from both sides in order to further narrow the gaps in the shared understanding.
  • To this effect, the next exploratory talks will take place on 20 April 2023 in Brussels.
  • Mr. Cassis and Mr. Šefčovič reiterated Switzerland’s and the Commission’s commitment to continue working together towards a common understanding on all structural issues in order to have the way towards a possible decision with respect to the start of formal negotiations.

07.03.2023 – More in-depth discussion at the eighth round of exploratory talks

State Secretary Livia Leu and Juraj Nociar, the head of cabinet of the EU Commissioner responsible for Switzerland, met once again in Brussels on 7 March. Their discussions highlighted the progress made in the previous rounds of talks, in particular on the issue of state aid. Consensus was also reached that additional new agreements need to be concluded, for example on electricity. Both parties expressed their satisfaction with the flexibility afforded by the package approach. The discussions took place in a constructive atmosphere.

A number of questions remain outstanding, however, which is usual in such a process. Further more detailed discussions will be needed on several key issues. Switzerland is seeking to secure exceptions within several agreements to better protect its own interests. Particular issues surround the smooth functioning of the labour market and the high level of wages, making it essential that any solution must take into account Switzerland's interests in this regard.

The rounds of exploratory talks are therefore continuing and will pave the way for the future negotiations. The next round of talks will take place on 20 April 2023.

Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission's vice-president for interinstitutional relations and foresight, will also be in Switzerland on 15 and 16 March. He and Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis will take the opportunity to exchange views on 15 March. This will not be a negotiation, but an in-depth dialogue on all elements of the package. The discussions between Mr Šefčovič and the Swiss representatives will be an opportunity for both sides to improve their understanding of each other's positions.

The development and stabilisation of relations between Switzerland and the EU creates security and prosperity for both sides.

20.01.2023 – Seventh round of exploratory talks with the EU

The seventh round of exploratory talks between the FDFA and the European Commission took place on 20 January 2023, between FDFA State Secretary Livia Leu and Juraj Nociar, the head of cabinet of the EU Commissioner responsible for Switzerland. Discussions focused on the new agreements, which could form part of the Federal Council's package approach, especially in the areas of food security, electricity and public health.

The package approach proposed by the Federal Council increases the scope for solutions. The essential interests of Switzerland can be better addressed. This approach therefore offers good conditions for a balanced alignment of interests. The EU is Switzerland's most important trading partner and Switzerland is the EU's fourth most important trading partner. Switzerland and the EU share the same fundamental values. The development and stabilisation of relations between Switzerland and the EU is a source of prosperity and stability for both.

09.12.2022 – Federal Council presents draft report Assessment of Swiss-EU relations

 The report’s document with the Federal Palace in the background.
The Federal Council concludes in the report that the bilateral approach remains the best solution for Switzerland. © FDFA

At its meeting on 9 December, the Federal Council discussed the draft report 'Assessment of Swiss–EU relations. The Federal Council concludes in the report that the bilateral approach remains the most favourable solution for Switzerland. The report was adopted subject to the outcome of the consultation of the foreign affairs committees of both chambers of Parliament. Parliament, for its part, had repeatedly called on the Federal Council to conduct an assessment of Swiss policy on the EU.

Projet Rapport « État actuel des relations Suisse–UE » (sous réserve de la consultation des commissions de politique extérieure du Conseil national et du Conseil des États)

Press release

23.11.2022 – Federal Council debates status of exploratory talks with EU

 Livia Leu speaks with Juraj Nociar.
Livia Leu in discussion with Juraj Nociar, Head of Cabinet of European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic. © FDFA

On 23 November 2022, the Federal Council met to discuss Switzerland's relations with the European Union (EU). The main item on the agenda was the progress made in exploratory talks held thus far with the European Commission. The Federal Council welcomed the fact that progress had been made but noted that differences remained. It therefore decided to continue the in-depth exploratory talks phase.

Press release

11.10.2022 – Exploratory talks between Switzerland and the EU: organisational structure to ensure better management of policy and content

On 31 August 2022, the Federal Council decided to establish an organisational structure to ensure better management of policy and content for Switzerland's exploratory talks with the EU. This consists of a steering group involving all departments and a sounding board with representatives from the cantons, social partners and the business community. Both bodies are chaired by head of the FDFA and President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis. The steering group was formed in September and the sounding board has been set up today.

Press release

25.02.2022 – Federal Council sets out approach for negotiations

At its retreat dealing with European policy on 23 February 2022, the Federal Council continued to debate the issues at hand and adopted a set of guidelines for its negotiating package with the EU. Regarding the institutional issues, the Federal Council decided on a vertical approach aimed at anchoring the different aspects in each individual single market agreement. This will be the basis for initiating exploratory talks with the EU. Ongoing work on the existing regulatory differences will continue in parallel.

Presse release

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