European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged Switzerland to quickly wrap up negotiations on a new bilateral treaty, saying time is running out as attention turns to the crunch phase of Brexit talks.
“Negotiate with me, wrap it up with me,” Juncker, whose term ends next year, said in an interview aired late on Thursday by Swiss broadcaster RTS. If a deal was not done soon, “it could really get bad”, he added.
The Swiss government has been wrestling with its approach toward treaty talks, which have run aground because of opposition from both the anti-EU far right and the usually pro-Europe centre left.
Unlike Britain in its messy divorce from the EU, non-member Switzerland has a patchwork of around 120 sectoral accords that govern ties with its most important trading partner and that will remain in effect even if treaty talks fail.
But Brussels has been pushing for a decade for a treaty that would sit atop those accords and make the Swiss routinely adopt changes to single market rules. It would also provide a more effective platform to resolve disputes.
The EU has piled pressure on Switzerland to go along, warning that failure to strike a deal means no increase in market access, dashing hopes for a new electricity union. It could also endanger current cross-border stock trading and unfettered EU market access for Swiss makers of products such as medical devices.
Juncker told RTS he wanted a comprehensive treaty deal with Switzerland, not a piecemeal accord that failed to address all outstanding issues. And he warned against letting the timetable slip any further.
“Time is running out because we are negotiating with the UK. I do not want negotiation 1 to encroach on negotiation 2. It’s going to complicate both sides of the process,” he said.