Relations between Switzerland and the EU in the area of the environment

Switzerland collaborates closely with the European Union (EU) on environmental matters. It has been a member of the European Environment Agency since 1 April 2006 and has succeeded in consolidating its relations with the EU in various sectors. Switzerland's environmental legislation has already been harmonised with EU regulations to a significant extent in a number of sectors.

European Environment Agency (EEA), meetings of EU environment ministers and of the heads of national agencies

Switzerland has been a full member of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and its European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET) since 2006. The EEA collects and analyses data on the state of the environment in 32 member countries (EU 27, EFTA 4 and Turkey) and six cooperating West Balkan countries. It ensures that these data meet the common criteria to guarantee their comparability. Although Switzerland only has a consultative role on the EEA Management Board, it benefits from the EEA's data collection and expertise, and information about Switzerland is included in EEA publications. However, Switzerland has not agreed to adopt the substantive rules for environmental policy or harmonise regulations in this area.

At the same time, Switzerland regularly attends the informal meetings of EU environment ministers. These meetings, which focus on specific topics, provide an opportunity for exercising reciprocal political influence.

Likewise, since 2006, Switzerland has been participating in the European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network) and the network of Heads of European Nature Conservation Agencies (ENCA).

Contribution to European enlargement

To help reduce the economic and social disparities within the enlarged EU, Switzerland has contributed over CHF 1.302 billion to the ten new Member States, which joined the EU in 2004, and to Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. The four areas of activity specified in the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between Switzerland and the EU in 2006 included, in particular environment and infrastructure. These cover, for example, the topics of energy efficiency, drinking water, wastewater, waste management, public transport, the remediation of industrial sites, the reduction of harmful emissions, spatial planning, biodiversity and nature conservation.

Implementation of the projects carried out in the States that joined in 2004 was completed in June 2017. The implementation period will end in December 2019 in Romania and Bulgaria and in December 2024 in Croatia. At the meeting between President of the Swiss Confederation Doris Leuthard and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 23 November 2017, the Federal Council announced its decision to commence the groundwork for a new contribution.

Incorporation of EU environmental legislation into Swiss law

Apart from the agreement on the EEA, bilateral accords between Switzerland and the EU generally provide for the adoption of EU legislation by Switzerland or the adaptation of Swiss legislative provisions to those of the EU in accordance with the principle of equivalence. Moreover, Switzerland also independently adopts elements of EU law in areas not covered by bilateral accords, essentially with a view to eliminating trade barriers.

With regard to the environment, the bilateral Agreement on Air Transport of 1999, for example, contains provisions on aircraft noise emissions. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), of which Switzerland is a member, is responsible, inter alia, for harmonising aircraft design standards, particularly in relation to environmental protection. The bilateral Agreement on the Carriage of Goods and Passengers by Rail and Road of 1999 also contains provisions for the coordination of transport policies. This enabled Switzerland to increase the taxes levied on heavy goods traffic and hence incentivise the switching of freight transport from road to rail.

Sectoral Dossiers

The Federal Council intends to pursue a bilateral course with the EU as long as Switzerland continues to have sufficient leeway in decision-making (in the areas covered by the bilateral agreements and other areas) and this course assures Switzerland favourable economic conditions.

Greenhouse gas emission trading scheme

The Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), which the EU extended to aviation in 2012, has become the world's biggest emissions trading market after China. A cap on emissions was defined from 2013 for all of the EU and shall be reduced each year to attain a 21% reduction in the sector's emissions by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The ETS is based on the idea that the generation of greenhouse gases should be reduced wherever this is most advantageous and effective.

Since 1 January 2008, Switzerland has also allocated emission allowances. With the revision of the CO2 Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2013, participation in this system has been made mandatory for certain sectors and a cap on emissions has been set.

Switzerland and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement to link their emissions trading systems on 23 December 2017. Under this agreement, greenhouse gas allowances in Switzerland and the EU are to be mutually recognised, which will allow companies and facilities participating in the Swiss system to gain access to the significantly larger and more liquid European market. As a result, emission allowance prices in both markets will be harmonised and competitive conditions for Swiss companies will be more similar to those of their European counterparts. The agreement stipulates that Switzerland will also include airline companies in its emissions trading system. The parties are aiming for the agreement to enter into force on 1 January 2020.


The EU Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) obliges the manufactures, importers and processors of chemical products to demonstrate that new substances introduced to the European market since 1981and certain existing substances that have not yet been controlled fulfil the conditions specified in the regulation.

In October 2008, the Federal Council decided to explore the possibility of cooperating with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) with a view to the possible harmonisation of the Swiss legislation with REACH. However, it was decided on 11 September 2015 to cease current active efforts toward opening negotiations with the EU and to begin an independent modernisation of Swiss chemicals legislation. At the same time, the Federal Council decided to review its options for cooperation in the interest of deepening technical and scientific collaboration with international authorities and certain countries. An exchange of letters was thus concluded in December 2017 between the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the Common Notification Authority for Chemicals of the FOEN, FOPH and SECO.

The European ecolabel and resource efficiency

Switzerland decided not to create an official ecolabel of its own and considered instead that it would be more advantageous to participate in the European ecolabel scheme. Swiss companies can already obtain this label, however they have to submit an application to an authority in an EU Member State. Given the requirement of on-site inspections, this places those seeking certification for services, e.g. hoteliers, at a particular disadvantage.

An agreement with the EU could allow Switzerland to establish a body authorised to award the ecolabel and to participate in the definition of criteria for the awarding of the label for different goods and services. As part of the second round of bilateral accords, the Federal Council adopted a mandate for negotiations on the ecolabel and the EEA in 2001. However, it was only possible to reach an agreement on Switzerland's membership of the EEA.

In a wider context, it should be noted that, apart from the common interest of Switzerland and the EU in ensuring the sustainable management of resources, it may be wise to monitor the conditions surrounding competition between Swiss and EU companies, the opening up of the market for Swiss cleantech, and joint support for innovation. In short, the adoption of a consistent approach to the harmonisation of the ecological rules associated with products could be examined (for example ecolabel, eco-design, the Ecomanagement and Audit Scheme (EMAS), the evaluation of the ecological footprint of products and companies).

Copernicus - the European Earth Observation Programme (former GMES)

Copernicus was launched jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the EU in 1998 for the purpose of providing Europe with the capacity for observing the Earth. The aim is to provide targeted services in the areas of the environment and security (atmosphere, land and marine monitoring, climate change, emergency management, and security) to user groups such as public authorities, humanitarian organisations and the private sector.

In addition to its participation in the ESA, Switzerland has contributed to the development of Copernicus through the EU research framework programmes in which it participates. It is also involved in several institutions that receive mandates from Copernicus (EEA, ECMWF [European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts] and Frontex [European Border and Coast Guard Agency] for the in situ component; ESA and EUMETSAT [European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites] for the space component).

As Copernicus is now managed entirely by the EU, the conclusion of a specific bilateral agreement may be warranted to eventually gain access to its information, guarantee participation in government procurement processes, participate in governance and ensure that expertise and experiences are shared. The results of an economic impact assessment of participation in Copernicus suggest a positive impact in Switzerland, both for instrument manufacturers and companies that value the information and for Switzerland as a business location, not to mention the field of research.


The negotiations in the area of electricity were initiated in November 2007. The main objective was to ensure security of supply in the context of deregulated markets.

Talks specifically concerned the EU directive on the promotion of energies from renewable sources. Like the Member States of the EU, Switzerland could be required to formulate a national objective regarding the proportion of its total final energy consumption. The Swiss electricity and cleantech industry could gain access to new sectors as a result.

The EU also proposed taking certain environmental issues in relation to the international electricity market into account, for example nature conservation, atmospheric emissions of certain pollutants and impact assessments.

The Federal Council decided on 2 March 2018 to proceed swiftly to conclude the agreement on participation in the electricity market. However, this still depends on agreement on institutional matters, state aid and the equivalence of certain environmental provisions. Application of the agreement will still be contingent on the full opening of the Swiss electricity market.

Further information

Last modification 31.03.2020

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