Swiss president wants EU referendum

Switzerland’s outgoing president called for a referendum to clarify the country’s relationship with the EU going forward.

“The bilateral path is important,“ President Doris Leuthard told Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick in an interview published Sunday.

“We must therefore clarify our relationship with Europe. We have to know in which direction to go,” added Leuthard, whose term in the rotating office concludes at the end of the year. “Therefore a fundamental referendum would be helpful.”

While not a member of the EU, Switzerland is part of the Schengen zone and is tied to the bloc by scores of bilateral agreements. Brussels and Bern are working to reach an overarching deal, but the relationship hit a snag this week when the EU offered Swiss stock exchanges only limited access. The Swiss threatened to retaliate.

“We can strengthen the cooperation with India and China, but the EU remains central. We need a mechanism and regulated relationship with the EU. That would also prevent political games like we are witnessing at the moment,” said Leuthard.

A referendum would be a risk for pro-EU forces in Switzerland. While it could give a mandate for closer ties, the parliament’s biggest group is the Euroskeptic Swiss People’s Party.

The stock exchange flap wasn’t helpful, Leuthard said.

“Of course, the differences with Brussels are now in focus. Here our attitude is clear: For the EU to link such a technical dossier like stock exchange equivalency with a political question like the framework agreement, that won’t do,” she said.

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