Switzerland dispatches envoy to Brussels as funding for programmes is suspended

Switzerland dispatches envoy to Brussels as funding for programmes is suspended

Switzerland has dispatched a senior envoy for talks in Brussels just days after the European Commission suspended negotiations on the country’s participation in three European Union funding programmes, in response to a Swiss vote to cap immigration.


2/19/14, 8:50 PM CET

Updated 6/4/14, 5:27 PM CET

Yves Rossier, state secretary in the Swiss foreign ministry and co-ordinator for relations with the EU, is scheduled to meet David O’Sullivan, a senior EU diplomat, in Brussels today (20 February). O’Sullivan will later in the day brief member states’ ambassadors to the EU about the meeting, the first face-to-face talks since Swiss voters on 9 February approved an initiative to limit immigration from the EU.

The European Commission this week suspended negotiations on Swiss participation in the Horizon 2020 research programme and the Erasmus+ exchange programme. The Commission also said that it would not start negotiations on Swiss participation in the Creative Europe programme, which provides support to the film industry. Talks on the three multi-annual programmes were suspended after the Swiss government said on Saturday (15 February) that the vote the previous week made it impossible to expand freedom of movement to Croatia, the EU’s newest member state. The vote also triggered the suspension of talks on electricity trade.

No justification

Roberto Balzaretti, Switzerland’s ambassador to the EU, said the suspension of Swiss participation in the three programmes was “unjustified” and created problems in areas that were not directly affected by the immigration vote – such as research and film support. Switzerland is not questioning the range of the bilateral agreements that give the country far-reaching access to the EU’s internal market, Balzaretti told European Voice. “If little Switzerland is capable of threatening this fundamental freedom of the EU, then perhaps there are other problems in the EU,” he said, referring to freedom of movement.

Didier Burkhalter, Switzerland’s foreign minister, who also serves as federal president this year, was in Berlin and Paris on Monday and Tuesday (17-18 February) to explain the vote and the government’s intentions to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister. Burkhalter said in Paris that Switzerland was not cancelling any agreements but rather seeking ways to implement the immigrant caps without endangering links with the EU. The government has three years to enact legislation to implement the restrictions.

Toby Vogel