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New Swiss chief negotiator seeks 'good will' to resolve EU impasse

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland swapped out its chief negotiator with the European Union on Wednesday, aiming for what Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis called “new elan” in talks over a stalled bilateral treaty with its biggest trade partner.

FILE PHOTO: Switzerland's national flag flies beside the one of the European Union in Steinhausen, Switzerland February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The government named Livia Leu, its ambassador to France, to replace Roberto Balzaretti, who led negotiations that produced a draft treaty in 2018 that has not been ratified amid Swiss concerns over sovereignty.

The cabinet in the weeks ahead will set out Switzerland’s position and relaunch discussions with the EU on how to resolve the remaining issues, Cassis told reporters in Bern.

“I am confident that with good will on both sides, along with negotiating creativity, we will be able to achieve balanced results,” added Leu, a career diplomat who has been ambassador in Iran and overseen Swiss trade deals.

Bern has struggled to forge domestic consensus on the treaty even though it won a referendum last month against eurosceptics seeking to curb immigration from the bloc.

Worries about state aid, EU citizens’ access to Swiss welfare benefits and unilateral Swiss rules designed to protect the nation’s high wages have proved thorny. Cassis would not rule out bringing up other topics as well.

The EU is loath to give Switzerland concessions that Britain could seize on in separate EU negotiations over relations in the wake of Brexit.

Critics say the draft EU deal would never win a referendum sure to arise under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

The treaty would have Bern routinely adopt EU single market rules and create a new dispute settlement platform.

Unlike Britain’s divorce from the EU, Switzerland’s patchwork of 120 sectoral accords on EU ties would remain in place without a new treaty.

But medical technology firms could suffer if Brussels drags its feet on updating mutual industrial standards, while Swiss scientists could miss out on EU research programmes if Europe plays hardball.

Additional reporting by John Miller, editing by Emma Thomasson

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