Switzerland aims for new EU talks on improving troubled ties

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Swiss President Ignazio Cassis and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) meet in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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ZURICH, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Swiss President Ignazio Cassis wants to thaw frosty ties with the European Union by seeking a new package of bilateral agreements and believes his country must move closer to the bloc, he told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

Years of talks to bind Switzerland more closely to the EU's single market collapsed in May last year when the Swiss government ditched a draft 2018 treaty cementing ties with its biggest trading partner.

Brussels had been pushing for a decade for a treaty that would sit atop a patchwork of bilateral accords and have the Swiss routinely adopt changes to single market rules. It would also have provided a more effective way to resolve disputes.

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Cassis, who is also foreign minister, said the Swiss government was now working towards fresh talks with the EU, which surrounds landlocked Switzerland.

"In the Federal Council, we are currently in the process of defining the framework for a possible package or an agenda for talks," he told the Sunday newspaper in an interview.

Cassis mentioned electricity and energy as possible topics for agreements, adding that there were many "possibilities for cooperation in the fields of health, research, media or culture, through which we can deepen relations."

EU-Swiss economic ties are now governed by more than 100 bilateral agreements stretching back to 1972.

Those accords remain in effect but will erode, threatening over time to disrupt or even jeopardise Switzerland's de facto membership in the EU common market which -- unlike Britain which made an unruly exit from the bloc -- Bern is keen to maintain.

Cassis, from the pro-business Liberals party, hoped a new package of bilateral agreements could resolve questions over dispute resolution and achieve a compromise on wage protection.

He added that in a tripolar world of the United States, Russia/China and the EU, "the pressure on Switzerland to cultivate deeper relations with Europe will grow. Because the EU is closest to us economically, ideologically and socially."

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Writing by Paul Carrel Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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