ZURICH (Reuters) - Special measures to protect Swiss wages and working conditions remain a red line in the country’s negotiations for a new relationship with the European Union, Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis said on Friday.
Earlier this week, Cassis signaled that Switzerland was prepared to take a flexible approach to labor market rules in its talks with the EU, indicating movement on a potential stumbling block for any deal.
But on Friday he stressed how important keeping these rules was for Switzerland.
“The flanking measures for the free movement of persons are still disputed, for us (they are) simply a red line,” Cassis told an event in Bern on Friday.
Switzerland in 2004 introduced “flanking measures” to protect Swiss wages and working conditions, two years after a deal to let EU citizens live and work in the country came into effect. Such free movement is a prerequisite for Swiss access to the EU single market.
Britain’s exit from the European Union also made concessions difficult, he said.
“The EU could move here, but at the negotiating table the EU diplomats hear ‘Switzerland’ and immediately think of ‘UK’. Every concession to Switzerland suddenly creates a precedent for Brexit,” Cassis added.
Switzerland and the EU aim to hammer out an accord on a treaty this year, with negotiations heating up before the summer break.
If the current negotiations do not succeed, both sides will have to look for a solution after the Swiss and EU elections, which are due to take place next year, Cassis said.
“In the meantime we would have to negotiate a kind of truce,” he said.
Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Hugh Lawson