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Axing of framework deal was unconstitutional, says professor

The unilateral decision to call off negotiations with the European Union (EU) was beyond the government’s remit, legal expert Thomas Cottier has said in the Sunday press.

Cottier, a professor emeritus of international economic law at the University of Bern, claims the government “overstepped its competencies”, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper reports.

At the end of May, the government ended seven years of negotiations with the EU on a framework deal which would have replaced the over 120 bilateral deals which have regulated Swiss-EU relations for the past decades.

Cottier says this decision has consequences reaching far beyond the mere end of negotiations: it means “the end of the bilateral approach”, he writes in a new publication.

“A strategic decision of this magnitude constitutionally requires parliamentary approval,” Cottier goes on, saying the government broke three constitutional articles – as well as parliamentary law – in sidestepping deputies in Bern.

And although the population did not constitutionally require a say on the issue, Cottier says direct democracy is also a victim: had the framework deal gone through parliament, citizens would at least have had the right to challenge it to referendum.

Parliamentarians are now not only entitled to, but “duty-bound” to challenge the government’s decision, whether through a parliamentary motion or by establishing a parliamentary enquiry, Cottier says.

New ideas

According to the SonntagsZeitung, the appraisal comes as a boost to pro-EU voices crafting their next move after the framework deal collapse.

Operation Libero, for example, a young, internationally-oriented and liberal group who run anti-populist campaigns, is already planning a people’s initiative to force the government back to the negotiating table.

A spokesman for the group told the SonntagsZeitung that they have drafted two alternatives to the framework deal, including one that goes beyond mere EU market access to include more wide-ranging cooperation on issues like climate.

The New European Movement, which includes parliamentarians in favour of closer EU ties, also plans to launch an initiative later this autumn, the paper reports. Their proposals will likely be geared towards full EU or EEA (European Economic Area) membership.

Cottier himself is president of the “Switzerland in Europe” association, which supports the EU project and works to promote better Swiss-EU relations.