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

Switzerland maintains close ties with the European Union (EU) on environmental matters. It regularly participates in informal meetings of EU environment ministers and has been a member of the European Environment Agency (EEA) since 1 April 2006. Switzerland's environmental legislation has already been harmonised with EU regulations to a significant extent in a number of sectors.

The EU’s Green Deal

The Green Deal presented by the Commission in December 2019 announces ambitious environmental policy proposals and the greening of other policies. Its goal is to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050.

To achieve a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990, the Green Deal has led to a general strengthening of EU climate legislation. In regard to the circular economy, the EU intends to place more emphasis on design and production rather than just recycling, as well as on consumer empowering. A new strategy to promote biodiversity should lead to binding targets in this area. The EU plans to set up its efforts against pollution and deforestation.

Switzerland and the EU share many of the sustainable development targets outlined in the Green Deal. Although Switzerland may benefit from these new developments in the EU, some measures could lead to trade barriers, such as product rules, or pose particular challenges, such as the decision taken to introduce a carbon adjustment mechanism at the borders.

European Environment Agency (EEA) and meetings of the heads of environmental protection agencies

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is an EU agency that provides decision-makers and the public with reliable and timely knowledge about Europe's environment.

Switzerland has been a member of the EEA since 2006, as part of the bilateral environment agreement with the EU (Bilaterals II). It participates fully in the EEA and the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET). The EEA 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. Switzerland participates in the EEA Management Board and thus benefits from the EEA's knowledge base 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.

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

Contribution to European enlargement

Switzerland and the EU signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the second Swiss contribution to selected EU member states on 30 June 2022. This contribution amounts to CHF 1.302 billion over ten years and focuses on vocational training and migration. Depending on the priorities of the partner countries, funds may also be invested in other areas such as environmental and climate protection.

Environmental and climate protection is one of the five thematic guidelines. Projects in this area should focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy, public transport, water and wastewater management, waste disposal and complementary measures for nature conservation and biodiversity. The projects actually implemented will depend on the agreements reached with the partner countries and, ultimately, on the concrete proposals they submit.

Croatia is the only country where projects funded by Switzerland's first contribution are still ongoing, and will continue until 2024.

Incorporation of EU environmental legislation into Swiss law

Apart from the agreements on the EEA (see above) and emissions trading (see below), 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

Based on the four criteria of single market access, possibilities for cooperation, political room for manoeuvre and feasibility in foreign policy, the Federal Council believes that the bilateral route remains the best solution for Switzerland.

Greenhouse gas emission trading scheme

The Agreement on the linking of the Swiss and EU emissions trading schemes came into force on 1 January 2020. It regulates the mutual recognition of emissions allowances from both Switzerland and the EU. As they each have their own legal basis, Switzerland is not adopting the EU legislation.

Reciprocal market access promotes flexibility and efficiency in carbon trading and ensures that Swiss companies pay the same
price per tonne of CO2 as their competitors in the EU and EFTA. The EU system covers some 10,000 installation operators and 350 aircraft operators who together emit about 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year. In the Swiss system, there are about 100 installation operators and 150 aircraft operators with a total of about six million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year. 

Under this agreement, CO2 emissions from civil aviation are also included in the Swiss emissions trading scheme. These regulations apply to domestic flights and flights from Switzerland to countries in the European Economic Area (EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and to the United Kingdom.

The agreement contains provisions applicable in the event of linking with third parties.


The Swiss-EU Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Conformity Assessments (MRA) contains a chapter on biocidal products (disinfectants, protective products, pest control products except plant protection products), facilitating mutual access to the market for such products. This chapter was revised in April 2015 and the equivalence of Swiss and EU legislation was again established. There are no plans to revise the EU legislation on biocides at this stage.

Industrial chemicals (REACH and CLP Regulations)

In the REACH Regulation and the CLP Regulation, the EU sets out the basic obligations for the safe handling of chemicals.

After the possibilities for cooperation between Switzerland and the EU in the area of chemical safety were examined and discussed at expert level with the European Commission in the period from 2008 to 2013, the Federal Council decided on 11 September 2015, following consultation with stakeholders, to no longer actively pursue the initiation of negotiations with the EU until further notice and to undertake independent further development of Swiss chemicals legislation. In order to be able to offer SMEs in Switzerland concerned by the REACH and CLP Regulations advice comparable to that provided in the EU, the Federal Council set up a REACH-CLP helpdesk at the Common Notification Authority for Chemicals of the FOEN, FOPH and SECO.

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.

Switzerland regularly adapts its chemicals legislation, taking account of legal developments in the EU and the decisions of the conferences of the parties to the multilateral chemicals agreements as well as the decisions and recommendations of the OECD Council. In this way, Switzerland ensures a high level of protection for health and the environment comparable to that of the EU and avoids barriers to trade.

REACH Helpdesk

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 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)

CCopernicus 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. The Federal Council decided in January 2022 to seek Swiss participation in Copernicus. This would give Switzerland a say in the programme and free access to its data in the long term. In addition, industry would be guaranteed the right to bid on Copernicus tenders. 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.

However, the conclusion of an agreement in the area of electricity still depends on an agreement on institutional matters and state aid. Application of the agreement will also be contingent on the full opening of the Swiss electricity market.

Timber trade

Since 3 March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation prohibits the placing on the market of illegally harvested timber. It requires each operator who places a wood product on the EU market for the first time to take a number of precautions. For downstream operators who buy or sell timber that has already been placed on the market, only the names of the suppliers and clients must be documented. The due diligence required by this regulation may pose a barrier to trade for Swiss (re)exporters.

After a series of parliamentary motions, on 27 September 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act that allowed the Federal Council to introduce, by means of an ordinance, an equivalent regulation to the EU regulation prohibiting the marketing of illegally harvested timber. This came into force on 1 January 2022. However, to achieve perfect equality in the treatment of individuals who place timber or products derived from timber for the first time on the Swiss or European market, an agreement would have to be signed with the EU.

The EU is expected to adopt a regulation against deforestation in the near future. This will largely mirror the current regulation on timber and will also aim to minimise European consumption of products linked to deforestation, whether legal or illegal, by making their import conditional on the absence of deforestation throughout the supply chain. This will cover cattle, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, soya, wood, rubber and products that contain or have been made from these (such as leather, chocolate, furniture, charcoal and printed paper products).

Further information

Last modification 26.05.2023

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