Meeting between Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey and Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative

Bern, Press release, 24.03.2010

On Wednesday 24 March 2010, Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey met Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy of the EU and First-Vice-President of the European Commission, in Brussels for talks. The meeting was their first official encounter since Baroness Ashton’s appointment as High Representative. The talks covered bilateral relations, various international issues and the conflict between Switzerland and Libya.

Catherine Ashton has been the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy since the Lisbon Treaty came into force and as such is one of Switzerland’s principal EU counterpart. 

The meeting was an opportunity to take stock of Swiss-EU relations: Micheline Calmy-Rey and Catherine Ashton reaffirmed the close and mutually beneficial partnership that is founded on about 120 bilateral agreements. The EU is by far Switzerland’s most important economic partner, and Switzerland is the EU second-biggest export market. Bilateral cooperation covers a wide range of policy areas including education, research, security, justice, police and visa policy, the environment and cultural affairs.

The challenges facing their bilateral relations were also discussed: the EU is increasingly demanding cooperation on the basis of EU law and a commitment by Switzerland to adopt future developments in EU law. Switzerland’s objective however is to safeguard adequate autonomy in decision-making.

No automatic adoption of EU law

Mrs Calmy-Rey made a point of stating that it was also unquestionably in Switzerland’s interests that the bilateral agreements be adapted in an efficient way to meet changing needs but that automatic adoption of new developments in EU law was out of the question. She went on to say that Switzerland’s political contacts must increasingly be addressed to the European Parliament, whose powers in the area of contacts with third countries have expanded as a result of the Lisbon Treaty.

A number of other international issues were raised including the situations in Iran and the Southern Caucasus, and the Middle East conflict. Among other things, Mrs Calmy-Rey informed Baroness Ashton about Switzerland’s efforts to convene a conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. In the follow-up to the UN Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza Conflict, Switzerland was commissioned by the United Nations General Assembly to take the necessary measures and make the clarifications needed to convene such a conference.

Problems with Libya

The problems between Switzerland and Libya were also discussed: Mrs Calmy-Rey recalled that the Swiss citizen, Max Göldi, had been detained in Libya for more than one and a half years. He has been separated from his family and friends for more than 19 months and was imprisoned for a second time on 22 February 2010. Switzerland’s efforts were focused on ensuring Max Göldi’s safe return, she said. 

Mrs Calmy-Rey also stressed that Switzerland had at all times complied with its obligations in all the agreements it had entered into with Libya to date, that it was still willing to negotiate, and that it was making every effort to reach a constructive solution through diplomatic channels.

In the framework of the mediation efforts of the European Union, the Federal Council has declared that it is willing to lift the ban on entry into and transit through Switzerland for particular Libyan citizens as quickly as possible. In return, it expects Libya to lift its entry ban on citizens of countries from the Schengen area.

For Switzerland the objective is to secure the release of Max Göldi. To achieve this, the Federal Council is willing to pursue the negotiations on the basis of the proposals of the two EU mediators. 

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