Switzerland is situated in the heart of Europe and surrounded by member states of the European Union (EU). This geographic and cultural proximity, along with the EU’s political and economic importance, make it and its member states Switzerland’s most important trading partner by far. An active European policy is therefore vital from an economic point of view.
As a non-EU member, Switzerland has negotiated a host of bilateral agreements that guarantee it access to the European single market. These agreements establish internal market conditions in a number of sectors, thus removing or reducing discriminatory treatment and barriers to trade between Switzerland and the EU. The conclusion of the 1972 Free Trade Agreement paved the way for an increasingly dense network of agreements to be developed in several stages. After the Swiss electorate rejected membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992, Switzerland and the EU signed the first package of bilateral agreements (seven agreements) in 1999, followed by the second package (nine agreements and an exchange of letters) in 2004. These agreements ensure broad reciprocal market access, prevent discrimination of Swiss companies in the European single market and form the basis for close cooperation in areas such as research, security, asylum, the environment and culture.