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The 2009 Foreign Policy Report of the Federal Council sets out the following three short and medium term objectives in Swiss foreign policy:
With regard to the first objective, the specific aims are the following: the ongoing development of the Schengen/Dublin Agreements, the definitive entry into force of the Agreement on combating fraud (which is still awaiting ratification by one EU member state, while Switzerland has implemented it provisionally with those other EU member states who desired so), and possible amendments to the Agreement on the taxation of savings.
The conclusion of new bilateral agreements will be possible if the mutual interest exists (second objective). Negotiations are currently under way on agreements in the following areas: electricity, agriculture, food and product security, as well as public health, navigation by satellite (Galileo and EGNOS), emissions trading (ETS) and cooperation between competition authorities. Preparatory work is in progress in other sectors, including peace promotion and security in handling chemicals (REACH). Another area in which the EU has shown an interest is taxation.
The third of the Federal Council's objectives is to consolidate bilateral co-operation with the EU in order to ensure the legal security and continued existence of the entire body of bilateral agreements.
One of the main current challenges of the bilateral way concerns the adjustment of existing agreements to new legal developments. The EU is increasingly demanding that Switzerland automatically adopt developments in EU law that are relevant to the bilateral agreements - something that for reasons of sovereignty is not acceptable to Switzerland. Switzerland is prepared to accept that future negotiations be based on relevant EU law providing Swiss sovereignty is respected. For these reasons it cannot accept any form of automatism. The adoption of Community acquis must be compensated through an appropriate degree of participation in so-called «decision shaping». Deadlines set for adopting amendments in the acquis must take into account the time it takes to complete Swiss procedures, and amendments to treaties must be carried out on the basis of mutual agreement. Finally, in cases where Switzerland cannot accept the provisions of Community acquis, the EU is expected to respond with compensatory measures.
Switzerland made the decision to pursue a bilateral approach in full awareness and knowledge of its advantages and drawbacks.
At an extraordinary meeting on 18 August 2010, the Federal Council decided that Switzerland would continue to conduct its relations with the EU on the basis of bilateral sectoral agreements. Although the bilateral way has become harder to pursue and, in bilateral negotiations, reaching agreements that deviate from EU acquis is becoming increasingly tough, the Federal Council considers that due to the very close relations between Switzerland and the EU, both parties have a shared interest in finding solutions via specific agreements in many areas. The Federal Council considers that the bilateral way is currently the most suitable way to ensure the necessary convergence of Switzerland's and the EU's respective interests.
In pursuing the bilateral way, the Federal Council bases its approach on the following principles:
In its autumn 2010 report on the evaluation of Switzerland's policy on the European Union, the Federal Council reviewed the various European policy instruments on the basis of the three above-mentioned criteria. It concludes that at the current point in time the bilateral way is feasible from a foreign policy perspective and remains the most broadly supported instrument of Switzerland's European policy from the domestic policy perspective. It also noted that pursuing the bilateral way has become harder and that for this reason some adjustments are necessary to bring the interests of the EU and Switzerland into harmony
Among other things, the following efforts have been undertaken to consolidate, secure and develop this approach in the future:
On 26 January 2011, the Federal Council decided that in continuing and further developing the bilateral way, it would take a holistic and coordinated approach. On 8 February 2011, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey came to the agreement with President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso that they would flesh out and specify this approach in a concrete manner.
On 1 February 2012, the Federal Council presented a road map in which it specified the next steps for the continuation of the bilateral negotiations with the EU. Here it declared that the negotiations regarding the electricity/energy dossier should be pursued without delay, and that solutions had to be found to the various institutional issues. These solutions, which concern the developments in EU law of relevance to Switzerland, the monitoring and uniform interpretation of the agreements, the settlement of disputes and legislation could also serve as a model for other negotiation dossiers if they prove to be acceptable to both sides. Other areas of negotiation within the scope of the coordinated approach include the REACH and agriculture/healthcare market access dossiers, as well as certain cooperation dossiers (trading in CO2 emissions certificates, Galileo satellite navigation programme, cooperation between competition authorities).
In their meetings with EU-Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy on 20 March 2012, President of the Confederation Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter discussed the next steps in the continuation of the bilateral approach, especially in the institutional sphere. Following an internal consultation, on 15 June 2012 the Federal Council approved a number of institutional principles to be submitted to the EU. These principles concern homogeneity of the application and interpretation of the provisions in the bilateral agreements, legal developments, monitoring of the implementation of the bilateral agreements and procedures for the settlement of disputes.
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