by Staff Writers
Madrid (UPI) Oct 11, 2012
Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter this week sought support from Spain for his case in a dispute with the European Union over Bern's complex relationship with Brussels.
Burkhalter met in Madrid Tuesday with Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo to explain Swiss resistance to key EU demands as the two sides seek to overhaul their relations.
Burkhalter has been making the rounds of 14 EU member states in recent months pleading the case that the Swiss system of "direct democracy" -- in which laws are voted on directly by the people rather than through elected representatives -- would be undermined by Brussels' demands.
Burkhalter said he told Garcia-Margallo Tuesday his country's practice of "people's rights" constitutes one of its foundations and, as such, "must continue to exist," SwissInfo.ch reported.
Since Swiss residents voted against joining the European Economic Area in the early 1990s, Bern and Brussels have negotiated a complex series of bilateral treaties that have aligned a much of Swiss law with that of the European Union.
But the arrangement has proven cumbersome and both sides are seeking to streamline it, given that the European Union is Switzerland's largest trading partner.
The negotiations, however, have proven rocky and currently are at an impasse.
Brussels says the current system amounts to special treatment for Switzerland, allowing it almost complete access to the European Union's internal market without having to accept the jurisdiction of its rules and regulations.
The European Union is seeking to replace the bilateral accords with an overarching institutional framework under which all of the agreements would be automatically adjusted to conform with changes in the European "Community acquis," or the body of EU law.
But Switzerland says such a deal would violate the spirit of its direct democracy and thus its sovereignty.
"We cannot accept what is supranational," Burkhalter told Garcia-Margallo, the Swiss website said.
Bern in June made an effort to restart talks by proposing to create an "independent" Swiss regulatory body to supervise the bilateral agreements, using an existing agreement with the European Union on electricity as a test case.
Burkhalter told reporters in Madrid that offer is a "substantial" one because of the investments made by Swiss companies in solar and renewable energy -- a strong bilateral electricity deal with the European Union is needed to spur development in the sector, he said.
That idea, however, last month was met with a frosty reception from the European Commission, which issued a negative an analysis of the Swiss proposals.
The Swiss daily Le Temps reported the commission's analysis determined the proposal it didn't "constitute an adequate response to the EU's concerns" and cited the issue of the Community acquis as a continuing stumbling block.
The EU commissioners also criticized the idea of creating a Swiss regulatory body to supervise the bilateral agreements, saying it would amount to putting control for implementing European law into solely Swiss hands, the newspaper said.
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