ZURICH: Switzerland and the European Union are unlikely to agree a deal on a new treaty regulating their relations until next year, when the outcome of Brexit talks is known, former EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in an interview published on Monday.
Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, has a patchwork of 120 sectoral accords with the bloc, and the two sides have spent years negotiating a framework agreement.
But officials have said a Swiss-EU accord is unlikely to emerge until the terms of Britain's future relationship with the bloc have been settled, because Brussels has been loath to give the Swiss concessions that Britain might seize on.
Britain, which quit the EU at the end of January, has until the end of this year to reach an agreement with the EU on their future relationship but the talks are at an impasse.
"I don't think that an (EU-Swiss) agreement will be reached in the second half of the year before the exact course of Brexit is clear," Oettinger, the former point person in Swiss-EU ties, told the Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper.
"The willingness to agree is likely to be low," said Oettinger, a German who was an EU commissioner from 2010 to 2019.
Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has said a new agreement is not his country's top priority as it tackles the COVID-19 pandemic. Bern wants to keep the treaty issue under wraps before a September referendum on ending a Swiss-EU pact on the free movement of citizens.
Brussels wants the Swiss to endorse terms under which Bern would routinely adopt single market rules and create a more effective platform for resolving disputes. The Swiss want to forge domestic consensus on how to proceed.
The talks between the two sides should be a priority for 2021, Oettinger said.