The Swiss-EU relationship is the EU’s deepest bilateral partnership. The UK might be tempted by the Swiss model following the Brexit vote, but the EU will likely want to avoid another complex and lengthy process.
Our chart shows the times and nature of the various deals signed between the EU and Switzerland over the years, a total of 20 main agreements and around 100 other agreements, with constant ongoing negotiations to refine, alter and further the relationship.
Agreements took on average five years from negotiation to application. The minimum period was two years, the maximum (Eurojust) was a decade.
From the EU’s perspective, the time spent negotiating this ‘bilateral’ approach has become problematic over the years, and the EU Commission has officially expressed frustration at the ‘ad-hoc’ special relationship with the Swiss, in contrast with other existing cooperation frameworks that could apply (the European Economic Area (EEA) would be the most obvious here).
While nothing concrete has been announced, it is very likely that the UK will try to seek the closest possible relationship with the EU without accepting some of the constraints – mostly on free movement of people – required by other existing agreements, such as the European Economic Area (EEA).
This could mean negotiating bilateral agreements sector by sector, or in groups, like the two main ‘Bilateral Agreements I and II’ negotiated with Switzerland.
While Switzerland voted against EU membership and refuses to enter the standard framework of the EEA format, its close relationship and legal obligations with the EU mean Switzerland incorporates most EU laws into its own legal framework and contributes to the EU budget while having no co-decision rights at the EU level.
These uncomfortable aspects of the relationship serve as a warning to the UK, particularly if its government hopes for a ‘tailor-made’ agreement with the EU which allows access to the single market without budgetary contributions, or free movement of EU citizens.