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What is this EU framework deal?

Despite its location smack in the middle of Europe, Switzerland refuses to join the European Union. But an institutional framework would simplify future ties between Switzerland and its biggest trading partner.

Since the free trade agreement signed in 1972, and the popular vote where the Swiss opted not to join the European Economic Area in 1992, Switzerland and the EU have been cooperating on a bilateral level, with over 20 large sectoral agreements plus more than 100 smaller deals.

In 2014, the two sides began negotiating an institutional framework agreement to rejigger certain bilateral agreements – in particular, those concerning single market access. The proposed accord was unveiled in December 2018.

After these years of negotiations, the EU is pushing for Switzerland to sign the agreement, but the Swiss government submitted it to a public consultation at the end of 2018. Brussels originally gave Switzerland until July 2019 to decide whether it wants to accept the deal. But since then, talks have stalled as three sticking points have remained: wage protection, state aid, and the extent to which EU immigrants can benefit from the Swiss social system. 

Overall, the framework agreement covers five key themes: free movement of persons, mutual recognition of industrial standards, agricultural products, air transport and land transport.

The future of this bilateral track – key for the Swiss economy as well as everyday relations – depends on whether Bern and Brussels can agree on issues like how to monitor and ensure compliance, and how to resolve any disputes between Switzerland and the EU.