The mandate of the EFTA/EU Delegation covers two main areas. First, the Delegation represents the Federal Assembly in the Parliamentary Committee of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Second, it is responsible for maintaining relations with the European Parliament. The mandate is based on Articles 2 and 3 of the Federal Assembly Ordinance on International Parliamentary Relations (OIPR; SR 171.117).
A permanent delegation of the Federal Assembly, the EFTA/EU Delegation consists of four Members of the Council of States and six Members of the National Council. It is currently headed by National Councillor Eric Nussbaumer (SP, BL); Benedikt Würth (CVP, SG), member of the Council of States, is its vice president.
European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
Together, the permanent parliamentary delegations of the four EFTA member states Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland form the EFTA Parliamentary Committee. The Committee meets at least twice a year to discuss EFTA’s third-country relations and ongoing free trade negotiations, as well as current challenges in the multilateral trade order and sustainability in trade relations. In these meetings, information and views are exchanged on important legislative processes in the EU and their impact on the EFTA member states. Experts are regularly consulted on current issues during these meetings.
The Parliamentary Committee plays an advisory role. It follows developments in current free trade negotiations and ensures that the efforts being made are rooted in parliamentary procedure. Twice a year the Committee meets with ministers of the EFTA member states to discuss trade policy. Parliament members’ commitment to the promotion of political debate in their home countries, along with efforts being made in civil society, help bring these complex and at times abstract topics closer to the people.
The EFTA Parliamentary Committee also deals with the functioning of the European Economic Area (EEA). The Committee convenes twice a year with a delegation from the European Parliament for an EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting. In these meetings, the Swiss delegation has observer status.
In addition, every year the EFTA Parliamentary Committee carries out visits to third countries to meet partners with which EFTA is negotiating new agreements or revising existing ones. During these visits, members of parliament from the EFTA states are able to obtain information on trading partners’ interests first-hand, and confirm the positions of the governments of the EFTA states at parliamentary level.
Relations with the European Parliament
The EFTA/EU Delegation maintains relations with the European Parliament by holding regular inter-parliamentary meetings with its European counterpart. These meetings allow both delegations to exchange views at parliamentary level on the state of bilateral relations, and to encourage further action where needed.
The EFTA/EU Delegation also regularly pays working visits to Brussels, where it attends meetings with the Swiss authorities in the European External Action Service, the European Commission, and various committees of the European Parliament that are of particular interest to Switzerland (e.g. the Committee on Foreign Affairs, AFET; the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, IMCO; the Committee on International Trade, INTA; and the Committee on Industry, Trade, Research and Energy, ITRE).
The Delegation also deals with the developments surrounding the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Brexit and the negotiations between the UK and the EU have a direct effect on Switzerland's European policy and are therefore of particular interest to the Delegation.
Since 2014, the EFTA/EU Delegation has also represented the Federal Assembly at meetings of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC). COSAC is composed of European Committee representatives of EU member states’ parliaments, and of European Parliament representatives. The EFTA/EU Delegation has observer status with speaking rights in this body. COSAC meetings provide a useful platform for maintaining contact with members of the EU member states' national parliaments, as well as with the European Parliament. They are also a good forum in which to raise awareness for Swiss concerns.
The role the EFTA/EU Delegation
The EFTA/EU Delegation deals with foreign points of view on issues that are relevant to Switzerland, and with the interests of its partner states – be that in the area of free trade or as part of the Europe dossier. Cultivating inter-parliamentary relations and establishing international networks enables Delegation members to include these viewpoints in debates within Switzerland. By reporting both in person and in writing to the foreign policy committees, the Delegation ensures that these specialist committees can in their deliberations benefit from the Delegation’s knowledge and the contacts it has gained through its activities abroad.