ZURICH (Reuters) – It is politically impossible for neutral Switzerland to sign in the foreseeable future a new treaty binding it closer to the European Union despite pressure from Brussels, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said in a newspaper interview.
His remarks come after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made clear last year that progress on a treaty before mid-2018 was needed to ensure enhanced Swiss access to the single market continues.
Maurer, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), took a far bleaker line with the Neue Zuercher Zeitung paper than has new Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, who is due to present his European policy approach to cabinet colleagues next week.
“A framework treaty (with the EU) is not possible in the foreseeable future,” Maurer said. “If we try it nonetheless, both sides put themselves under pressure and this will not lead to good negotiating results.
“We should also not try to wrap up negotiations before Brexit. We don’t move so quickly. This does not reflect our mentality,” he added in a reference to separate negotiations Brussels is conducting with Britain over terms of its exit from the bloc.
Maurer said it was time to be realistic with Brussels about prospects for a deal after Swiss officials had sent mixed signals about a treaty to replace a patchwork of 120 bilateral accords that now govern ties between Switzerland and its most important trading partner.
Relations with the European Union soured in December as Bern threatened retaliation over what it called unacceptable limitations on Swiss stock exchanges’ access to the single market.
The row threatened to set back ties that had been thawing after the Swiss parliament in 2016 skirted voters’ demands for immigration quotas for EU citizens.
The anti-immigration SVP has long opposed a new treaty that would give the European Court of Justice a say in settling disputes. But leading politicians from mainstream conservative parties have also expressed reservations about rushing into a deal before the outcome of Brexit negotiations is clear.