ritish Prime Minister Theresa May had no easy task ahead of her as she negotiated her country’s future relationship with the EU. The first part of the Brexit negotiations will be comparably manageable; the withdrawal agreement—the actual “divorce” from the EU—only requires approval from the European Parliament and 20-member states. However, the negotiations for a framework agreement regulating future mutual relations will be more complex, if only for the reason that it may require the unanimous support of more than 30 national and regional parliaments across Europe.
Could the Swiss bespoke model—consisting of several bilateral agreements—inspire a flexible post-Brexit negotiation strategy between the UK and Europe? ETH Zurich professor, Michael Ambühl and researchers Daniela Scherer and Martin Gutmann think it is possible.
Migration compliance with free movement
The future prosperity of the British economy, among other factors, depends on access to the European Single Market. This market rests on a foundation of free movement - the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour across European borders. However, regulating foreign labour, and thus migration, seems to be a priority among some segments of the British population.
With nearly 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK and 1.2 million UK citizens living in EU countries, the issue of migration will likely be among the top agenda topics of the post-Brexit negotiations. Migration not only influenced the 2016 UK referendum, it is possible that it will become a defining factor in the UK’s future relationship with the EU. One of the central questions that will need to be addressed is, “How will the UK regulate migration to comply with the EU principle of free movement should they wish to access the European Single Market?”
Switzerland’s relationship with the EU represents a carefully negotiated and complex network of bilateral agreements. Will a similar approach work for the UK?
Migration model with a safeguard clause
Michael Ambühl, Chair of Negotiation and Conflict Management at ETH Zurich and doctoral researcher, Daniela Scherer have developed a new and versatile migration model with a safeguard clause that, on the one hand, guarantees free movement, but, on the other hand, temporarily measures it for instances of exceptionally high migration. In EU legislation, there are existing safeguard clauses and formulas. In addition, the Swiss bilateral treaty with the EU on the free movement of persons includes a mechanism that describes the idea of a safeguard clause; however, it is not formalized. Ambühl and Scherer’s migration safeguard model provides a framework in which the UK contributes to the functioning of the Single Market, but allows for the limitation of migration when it becomes excessive.
Inspiration from engineering
In the development of the safeguard clause model, ETH researchers looked to the field of engineering for ideas. Engineers deal in practical solutions aiming to achieve the best results under given constraints and the existing environment. Using the “Negotiation Engineering” method—also developed at ETH Zurich—the migration safeguard model breaks down highly complex problems into smaller sub-problems and expresses them using the language of mathematics. In this approach, negotiators take abstract phrases such as, “serious economic or social difficulties” and “appropriate measures” and transform them into concrete terms providing a quantitative and statistical framework as a basis for discussion. “Using mathematical models allows political representatives to turn a sometimes-emotional discussion into a quantitative and clear-headed negotiation,” says Ambühl.
Switzerland’s relationship with the EU represents a carefully negotiated and complex network of bilateral agreements. Will a similar approach work for the UK? Despite the debate over the apparent differences in socio-economic and political realities, Scherer points out, “Switzerland and the UK share a “sovereignty reflex,” a free trade spirit, and a need to maintain a co-operative relationship with the EU.” These shared interests could make the Swiss model a source of inspiration for the UK as they negotiate their future relationship with the EU.