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“The SP needs a return to pro-European values”

20.11.2019 – SUSANNE WENGER

We now need fresh impetus to break the impasse over Europe, says Thomas Cottier, chairman of the Switzerland in Europe association, who views the election results as a hint to the Social Democratic Party (SP) that it should stop trying to obstruct progress on a framework deal with the EU.

It is hard to tell at this early stage what impact the elections will have on Swiss EU policy, as not all parties in the election campaign were clear on whether Switzerland should sign the framework agreement with the EU that has been on the table for months. This is due to sticky issues such as wage protection. “The clock is ticking,” says Thomas Cottier, Professor Emeritus of European and International Economic Law at the University of Berne and chairman of the pro-EU Switzerland in Europe association. Cottier recommends that the Federal Council and the newly elected parliament “take their cue from voters”, who handed a rebuke to Switzerland’s most EU-sceptic party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Not only is the SVP against the framework agreement, it also wants to put an end to freedom of movement through its limitation initiative. “But this policy of obstruction was rejected at the ballot box,” says Cottier, explaining that the Green Liberals (GLP), a party emphatically in favour of the framework agreement, emerged stronger from the elections. “The seat gains for the GLP can be viewed as an endorsement of this stance,” he says. Cottier interprets the losses for the SP as a sign that people want the left-wing party to return to its traditional pro-European values. For example, prominent trade unionists who had recently expressed their opposition to the framework deal lost their seats. If the SP grabbed the bull by the horns and took the lead, he believes that a big “coalition of common sense” could come together in the same way that it did to oppose the SVP’s limitation initiative. This is the only wayto preserve and develop the bilateral agreements, which are important for the economy and the country as a whole, says Cottier: “Swiss who live in EU countries also need legal certainty.” The Europe expert wants the Federal Council and parliament to take other things into account besides domestic considerations. “The geopolitical climate has changed,” he says. In the coming years, Switzerland will become much more dependent on stable relations with the EU, he believes.

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