New negotiator Balzaretti could revive EU-Swiss accession talks

EPA / SALVATORE DI NOLFI

Roberto Balzaretti, Director at the Directorate of International Law of Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talks about potentate assets from the point of view of Switzerland, during a press conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, Switzerland, 25 November 2016.

New negotiator Balzaretti could revive EU-Swiss accession talks


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The Swiss Federal Council has appointed Roberto Balzaretti as the new director of Switzerland’s Directorate for European Affairs (DEA).

With a PhD in constitutional law, and fluent in all three Swiss national languages, Balzaretti worked for years in the Directorate of International Law and acted as a legal adviser of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. He also previously served as Swiss ambassador to the EU and will hold the title of state secretary in his new role.

A quarter of a century after first serving in Brussels, Balzaretti returns at a time when his task is far more complicated – to put Switzerland’s accession to the EU back on the table and find an agreement that could end with a referendum on Switzerland’s relationship with the bloc.

Brexit comes at a bad time for Switzerland

In light of the UK’s decision to leave the bloc, the EU has toughened its stance toward Switzerland and is less likely to give to the country the special treatment that Bern longs for, according to  Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.

“The fact is that the European Union’s stance toward us is more compact and more self-confident — the Brexit crisis has closed the ranks and we have a partner who is less willing to make concessions than previously,” the Swiss minister said on Wednesday in his first major address since taking office.

Cassis explained that  Switzerland is not any less attractive as a member than before, but because other countries also have expectations. The EU and Switzerland have been in talks for years about streamlining relations via a so-called institutional framework agreement.

Relations between the two are governed by a set of treaties, but the relationship is in crisis after the EU decided to grant the Swiss stock market equivalence for only one year in a move aimed at putting pressure on Bern to clinch an overall deal on its relations with the bloc.

The European Commission had initially proposed the open-ended adoption of equivalence for the Swiss exchanges, in line with a deal on U.S. trading venues, but the Swiss’ reluctance to move forward on an overall agreement pushed the Commission to their earlier decision from December.

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