Did someone say “referendum?”
The EU’s relations with key third-party country Switzerland have sunk to their lowest point in years thanks to a last-minute decision by the European Commission to grant Swiss stock exchanges just one year’s further access to the single market. Switzerland is not a member of the EU but it does have close links to the bloc, having signed 120 bilateral trade agreements with Brussels in the last few decades.
“[Access for Switzerland] can be extended provided there is sufficient progress on a common institutional framework,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU commissioner in charge of financial-services policy, just before Christmas. In other words, for Switzerland’s stock exchanges to continue to enjoy full access to the single market, it must accept further integration. By contrast, other foreign exchanges such as those in the US or Hong Kong were given open-ended access.
The decision, which formed part of the EU’s new sweeping MiFID II financial regulations, has triggered a furious backlash from Swiss policymakers. “We are in front of a pile of s***,” thundered Leader of the Social Democrats Christian Levrat. “The relationship with the EU is worse than ever. [Switzerland needs] a serious domestic political debate on the basis of facts.”
Mr Levrat’s comments chime with the views expressed somewhat more diplomatically by the country’s outgoing President Doris Leuthard, who called for a referendum to clarify what sort of future relationship, if any, the country should have with the EU. Some EU member states are putting Switzerland in the same basket as Britain and want to set an example while others see its financial center as a competitive threat that needs to be kept in check, Leuthard complained.
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