Both Switzerland and the EU are interested in maintaining well-regulated, frictionless relations. For Switzerland, tailored access to the EU single market is important; for the EU, it is the integrity of its single market, which calls for the same rules to apply to all participants. This balance can be achieved with the package approach. It comprises a number of thematic elements, including new agreements and institutional solutions, the matters to be negotiated having been established by the Federal Council and the European Commission in exploratory talks. Following the Bilaterals I and II, this is the third package of agreements to be negotiated.
Thanks to the Bilaterals I (1999) and II (2004), relations between Switzerland and the EU have developed over the past two decades to the benefit of both sides. The bilateral approach, embarked upon after Switzerland's unsuccessful bid to join the EEA in 1992, has shown itself to be robust and capable of achieving majority support. The EU is prepared to continue along this path, subject, however, to the condition that the same rules apply to all participants in the EU single market. This also pertains to Switzerland with regard to those market sectors in which it aims to participate (air and land transport, free movement of persons, electricity etc.).
'Institutional elements' are to be agreed to ensure this harmonisation of legislation. This will enable legal certainty to be created, thus stabilising the bilateral approach. However, the Federal Council also wishes to expand the bilateral approach in order to support Switzerland's heavily export-based economy, improve the security of the population and ensure its prosperity. The approach is to be developed further to include participation in additional areas of the EU single market, such as electricity and food safety. At the same time, the Federal Council is seeking to safeguard wage levels, avert an influx of immigrants into the social security system, uphold direct democratic rights and preserve sovereignty. It also wants to strengthen Switzerland as a location for research and innovation, a goal the cooperation agreements on research (Horizon), education (Erasmus) and culture are best suited to achieve.
All of these elements are part of the new package. The concerns of both Switzerland and the EU will be brought to the table and negotiated at the same time. The various elements provide room for manoeuvre in the search for solutions. The Federal Council approved the draft negotiating mandate on 15 December 2023.
The package elements:
- New agreements: electricity, food safety, and health
- Ensure participation in EU programmes: research, innovation, education, youth, sport, culture and other areas
- Institutional elements: dynamic adoption of legislation, uniform interpretation of agreements, monitoring, dispute settlement
- Provisions on state aid in the air and land transport agreements and the future electricity agreement
- Free movement of persons: principles and exemptions with regard to immigration and wage protection
- Stabilisation of the Swiss contribution: legally binding mechanism for future contributions
- Political dialogue: means of steering the bilateral approach