European Union External Action

Switzerland and the EU

Switzerland and the European Union (EU) share history, languages, culture, and political values. On the world stage, the EU and Switzerland are like-minded actors, supporting each other in a number of areas, including:

  • climate change
  • promoting human rights, and
  • combating poverty.

Switzerland also takes part in several of the EU's missions and operations for civilian crisis management.

Through a range of bilateral agreements, the EU has closer ties with Switzerland than with any other country outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Switzerland is associated with several EU policies relating to:

  • the internal market,
  • the Schengen agreement for free movement across certain borders,
  • the Dublin system for dealing with asylum claims, and
  • the EU's research and mobility programmes.

Towards an enhanced partnership

In 2014, the EU and Switzerland started negotiations on a common institutional framework. Such overarching "house rules" are necessary to ensure a homogenous application of internal market law in both the EU and Switzerland. An institutional agreement would enable Switzerland to strengthen the partnership and deepen it further.

The “mass immigration initiative”

The excellent EU-Swiss relations are currently overshadowed by the so-called "mass immigration initiative" which the Swiss people adopted in a referendum. By introducing into the Swiss constitution an article claiming quantitative limits to the free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland, the initiative is calling into question the existing system of EU-Swiss agreements.

Switzerland and the EU are key economic partners:

  • Trade exchanges amount to about €1 billion every working day.
  • In 2015, Switzerland was the EU's 3rd largest trading partner after the US and China.
  • The EU is Switzerland’s largest trading partner by far. 
  • The EU accounts for around 55 % of Switzerland's exports in goods and for 75 % of its imports.
  • Switzerland accounts for more than 8 % of the EU's exports and 6 % of its imports.

The EU's economic and trade relations with Switzerland are governed by the free trade agree­ment  of 1972, and by the Bilaterals I agreements of 1999. These agreements give Switzerland direct access to key sectors of the EU's internal market, including:

Switzerland’s participation in further areas of the internal market, such as electricity or services, depends on the conclusion of the institutional framework agreement.

As part of the Bilaterals I agreement, Switzerland and the EU concluded a deal on the free movement of people. This gives citizens on each side the right to live and work in the EU or Switzerland, provided they have a job or other source of income.

About 1.3 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and 450 000 Swiss live in the EU. Another 300 000 EU citizens cross the border daily to work in Switzerland. The free movement of people is a centrepiece of EU-Swiss relations. The deal cannot be separated from other agreements that give Switzerland access to the EU's internal market.

Switzerland has also been associated with the EU's student and youth mobility programmes. Since 2014, it has taken part in the Erasmus+ exchange programme as a third country.

In recent years, the EU and Switzerland have cooperated in pursuing international standards of tax transparency and fair tax competition.

In May 2015, they signed an agreement on the automatic exchange of information, which will significantly improve the fight against tax evasion. The new agreement is scheduled to come into force by 2017.

Switzerland and the EU have a long tradition of successful cooperation in the field of R&I. Switzerland was fully associated with the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development. It is currently associated with the EU’s:

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