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Europe's week: EU-Swiss deal collapses and Belarus plane drama

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A poster of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) for a moderate immigration initiative reading 'we're too tight!' is displayed in a street in Lausanne
A poster of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) for a moderate immigration initiative reading 'we're too tight!' is displayed in a street in Lausanne   -   Copyright  LAURENT GILLIERON/AP
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It felt a little like Brexit this week when Switzerland abruptly ended talks with the European Union about a long-anticipated political treaty that would have replaced a patchwork of loose individual deals.

These talks have been going on for years, but recently there was a hardening of tone in the air, as one diplomat told Euronews.

When the EU refused to budge on key issues like wage protection and freedom of movement, the Swiss government hit the exit button – likely driven by growing isolationist tendencies at home.

What happens next? Well, if no agreement is eventually reached, Switzerland will be downgraded to third-country status and face new hurdles to trade, which isn't ideal for a landlocked country that exports more to the EU than to China and the US combined.

It could also hurt a whole range of Swiss and European industries – all this was well known, but like in Britain, it happened anyway.

In the end, the Swiss president offered Europe some words of consolation.

“Switzerland remains a first-class partner for the European Union. And vice versa. We want to continue the dialogue with the EU and further develop our close relationship with a common agenda. Thanks for your attention," Guy Parmelin said.

Belarus crisis

There was another country that opted for isolation this week: Belarus.

Certainly, in a different context with different methods and a different political mentality.

A Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk, which, according to the government in Belarus, was due to a security threat. But when it emerged dissident journalist Roman Protasevich had been on the plane and had been arrested in the Belarusian capital, EU leaders condemned the move as an act of piracy.

"This outrageous behaviour needs a strong answer. Therefore, the European Council decided that there will be additional sanctions," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Charles Michel, European Council President, was also highly critical: "We will not tolerate any attempt to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians. What happened yesterday is not acceptable."

The incident, which happened right before the start of an EU summit in Brussels, meant that leaders acted quickly and banned Belarusian aeroplanes from the bloc and called on EU-based carriers not to fly over Belarussian airspace.