EU on brink: Brussels braced for explosive talks with Switzerland after Brexit moment

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Switzerland walked out of talks to replace its bilateral agreement with an overarching framework agreement with Brussels to manage their relationship. Bern said the pact threatened its sovereignty and ability to protect its labour market. Almost six months later, the country’s federal foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, will meet Commission Vice President Faros Sefcovic in Brussels today.

Bern abandoned the negotiations after seven years of talks with Brussels to replace the ad-hoc arrangement between the two parties that has seen Switzerland take advantage of the EU’s single market.

The move was branded by some as Switzerland’s “Brexit moment”.

Switzerland has never been an EU member and rejected joining the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992.

But it has enjoyed almost full access to the EU’s single market through a series of 120 bilateral agreements and is a member of the bloc’s Schengen passport-free travel area.

The country has also been largely aligned with Brussels on a vast array of economic and legal matters.

Brussels claimed the framework agreement would have upgraded and enhanced their relationship.

Eurocrats have refused to do the same with the bilateral pacts, which will now left to eventually disintegrate as EU officials look to pressure Switzerland to return to the negotiating table.

Bern’s access to the bloc’s markets slowly eroded as a result.

In retaliation, EU chiefs warned in July that there would be no unfettered access to the bloc’s single market and that they were working on dismantling the bilateral ties.

The European Commission said: “Switzerland will gradually lose its privileged connection with the EU electricity system.

“Less connection and less cooperation will make the Swiss energy system less efficient and more costly for Swiss consumers.”

Switzerland plays a vital role in the EU’s electricity system, supplying clean energy to the bloc and allowing power to pass through its borders to member states.

Swiss MP Martin Baeumle claimed at the time that the EU would not be able to cut-off power supplies without spiting itself.

He said: “You can’t just flick a switch and then Switzerland is cut out.

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“If there’s a blackout that will hit everyone.

“It’s an illusion that Switzerland would go black but the lights would stay on elsewhere in Europe.”

Controls over state subsidies were one of the main sticking points in the talks over a new Swiss-EU trading relationship.

The decision to quit the talks was a massive victory for Switzerland’s right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which has campaigned tirelessly to prevent powers from being handed to Brussels.

But others claim the move will not cause a similar political earthquake to the Brexit result in June 2016.

Hugo Roppel, chief executive of Geneva Logistics Group, said: “To be honest, I do not have a sense of direct consequences for our businesses.

“The most rational thing would be to say that we need Europe and that Europe needs Switzerland.”

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