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University of Basel

What should the relationship between Switzerland and the EU look like in future, Christa Tobler?

Text: Christa Tobler

A lawyer and an economist give their views on the current state of play.

illustrated portrait of Christa Tobler
Prof. Dr. Christa Tobler (Illustration: Studio Nippoldt)

Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is nearly always right at the top of the agenda for the Swiss Government and civil service – and therefore very often at the forefront of public debate. What interests me most is the legal framework – that is to say, the bilateral law – that governs this relationship. It has its origins in the 1950s and 1960s, when Switzerland first concluded international agreements with the then European Communities – the EU was not created until much later – on issues like trade in clocks and watches. Incidentally, this is an agreement that still works extremely well. Over time, more and more agreements on different subjects were added. There is now a large, multifaceted, but complex network of bilateral law governing the legal relationship between Switzerland and the EU. This is a unique arrangement not replicated for any other EU non-member state.

In this country we like to refer to Switzerland as an “exceptional case”, for which only special rules are good enough. From outside, however, things look a little different. Switzerland is one of many countries with which the EU has agreements. In their eyes, there are definitely parallels to be drawn between different agreements and states – in commercial law, for instance. A number of countries have concluded agreements with the EU that allow their nationals and businesses to access the EU’s large single market (and vice versa).

Today, the EU speaks of an enlarged single market in which not only its own member states, but certain other states can participate to some extent. The closest ties are with Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, which together with the EU states form the European Economic Area (EEA). Here, practically all the EU’s single market rules apply. Andorra, Monaco and San Marino are also mapping out a comprehensive legal relationship with the EU single market. Although Switzerland is not involved in all aspects of the single market through bilateral law, in certain areas it is very close to it. Next come other countries like Turkey and Ukraine. Finally, the draft EU withdrawal agreement for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland envisaged that the EU’s single market rules would continue to apply during a transition period.

Christa Tobler has been Professor of European Law at the University of Basel’s Institute for European Global Studies since 2005. Since 2007 she has also been a professor at the University of Leiden (NL). She works on various areas of European Union law, specializing in two areas: issues relating to equal rights and discrimination, and the legal relationship between Switzerland and the EU.

More articles in the current issue of UNI NOVA.

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