01 Mar 2006

Integration without Membership

Switzerland's Bilateral Agreements with the EU

Marius Vahl / Nina Grolimund

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Surrounded by European Union member states on all sides, Switzerland is one of the great anomalies of European integration. Although it is one of very few countries in Western Europe that has chosen to remain outside the EU, Switzerland is closely integrated with the EU. Two sets of recently negotiated bilateral sectoral agreements with the Union provide further integration between Switzerland and the EU.
These agreements are being implemented amidst a crisis in the EU following the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005. ‘Enlargement fatigue’ is generally considered a key element of the EU’s current predicament, and Switzerland is touted by some as a possible model for a close relationship with the EU short of full membership. But what exactly is the ‘Swiss model’?
This study analyses the functioning of the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, focusing on the agreements that entered into force in 2002. Particular attention is paid to the institutional arrangements and their ability to adapt to new legal and political developments in the EU, the impact of the agreements on the functioning of Swiss democracy and how the Swiss political system affects the implementation of the bilateral sectoral agreements. A comparison is also made with the experiences of the European Economic Area, the only arrangement for integration without membership that is more extensive than the Swiss model. The study concludes with an assessment of the future prospects of EU-Swiss relations.