Swiss President Doris Leuthard has said a referendum would help clarify the country’s position on its relationship with the European Union.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but its tensions with Brussels started as Britain has been negotiating its withdrawal from the multinational bloc, including seeking a new form of trade relationship with the rest of its members.
Switzerland and the EU have been in talks to establish a new framework to replace over 100 bilateral trade agreements which regulate relations between Brussels and Bern.
Bilateral ties, however, soured last week after the EU granted Swiss stock exchanges only limited access to the bloc. Swiss officials slammed the move, calling it discriminatory and threatened to retaliate.
"The bilateral path is important. We therefore have to clarify our relationship with Europe. We have to know in which direction to go. Therefore a fundamental referendum would be helpful," Leuthard told the Swiss newspaper Sonntags Blick on Sunday.
Talks on the comprehensive agreement between the EU and Switzerland advanced last month after Bern agreed to increase its contribution to the bloc’s budget. Such a deal would ensure Switzerland adopts relevant EU laws in return for expanded access to the EU’s single market. However, such an agreement would be opposed by the anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which is currently the largest bloc in the country’s Federal Assembly.
"Of course, the differences with Brussels are now in focus. Here our attitude is clear – for the EU to link such a technical thing like stock exchange equivalency with a political question like the framework treaty, that is not possible," Leuthard said.
The Swiss president said some countries were trying to put Switzerland into the same category as Britain while others wanted to strengthen their own financial centers at the expense of Bern.
"We need a mechanism and regulated relationship with the EU that would also prevent the political games like we are experiencing at the moment," Leuthard said.
The president also said she understood Swiss skepticism towards the EU but there was no alternative to an agreement with the bloc that generates about 66 percent of Swiss trade.