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“I Want Swiss-EU Relations to Thrive”

H.E. Petros Mavromichalis, Ambassador of the European Union to Switzerland talked to students and faculty of SML about Swiss-EU relations and current developments in Brussels.

The well-established tradition at SML to invite the new EU Ambassador for an exchange with students and faculty took place on 23 November. This dialogue started in 2007 with Ambassador Michael Reiterer, and this year’s event with H.E. Petros Mavromichalis was the fourth edition of this series, now part of the IB Podium of the International Management Institute.

ZHAW IB Podium on 23 November

ZHAW IB Podium on 23 November

Florian Keller, Head of the Center for EMEA Business welcomed the online audience to the webcast and introduced the guest speaker. At the beginning of his 20-minute-long keynote speech, the EU Ambassador highlighted the importance of the close ties between the two parties. He looked back at the start of the bilateral relations that emerged after Switzerland refused to join the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992. While the bilaterals are generally called a “Königsweg” by Swiss politicians, the representative of the EU commission calls them a “provisional agreement” since Switzerland applied at the end of 1992 also for EU (then EEC) membership. He recalled the fact that this Swiss application was only withdrawn in 2016. The EU diplomat also mentioned that there is no other state with which the EU has concluded this kind of extensive bilateral agreements.

Switzerland’s wish to participation in the internal market

In the next part, the Ambassador explained that the EU keeps calling on Switzerland since 2008 that participation in the internal market “requires a homogenous and simultaneous application and interpretation of the constantly evolving acquis.” H.E. Petros Mavromichalis stated that reinforcing the institutional structure is a conditio sine qua non for any other domain between Switzerland and the EU to develop further. At the moment he is waiting to hear from Switzerland what has to be done to finally ratify the institutional framework agreement (InstA). As long as the EU does not know the exact, official position of Switzerland they cannot reply to it.

Swiss-EU relations at an important crossroad

Moreover, he underlined that the EU’s position towards Switzerland is based on unanimity decisions. In short, the Ambassador described the current situation as an “important crossroad” and said that there will be no progress without an InstA.

Confronted with the claim that approving the InstA would correspond to an EU membership without voting right, the Ambassador replied that this is not correct. About 95 percent of EU legislation is excluded in this agreement. He recalled that the InstA only applies to the five existing market access agreements, i.e. free movement of persons, overland transport, air transport, technical barriers to trade, and agriculture. Beyond that, there is no obligation to adopt the Euro or to contribute to the EU budget as EU member states have to.

Up to the Federal Council to convince the Swiss population

When asked why the EU’s point of view in not so well known in Switzerland he replied that his role as a diplomat is not to interfere in internal Swiss politics. It is up to the Federal Council to convince the Swiss population about the benefits of the InstA. Ambassador Mavromichalis stated however, that he is very happy to explain the EU’s position at events, such as here in this traditional exchange with students and faculty of SML. He concluded the webcast with the wish to see thriving Swiss-EU relations.