Switzerland pursues closer energy links with EU
The Swiss government has given the green light for a bilateral energy treaty with the European Union and plans to
start negotiations later this year. The Federal Energy Office said the talks would set regulations for the
cross-border trade in energy, which is important for the Swiss economy.
Switzerland wants to consolidate its role in the international energy market. It added that such a treaty would also consolidate Switzerland's position in a broadly liberalised European energy market.
In this way, it is hoped to prevent a repeat of the 2003 blackout in Italy, which was caused by a broken power line
in Switzerland. Central issues for the Swiss include the use of transmission networks and the handling of power
Further themes expected to be put on the table include cross-border access to energy markets, energy from renewable sources and the recognition of "green" energy.
The Energy Office said the international accord also had great significance for the supply of energy to Switzerland, "which imports and exports energy on a nationwide scale". For that reason, the department said it was necessary to ensure the country's function as an energy "nerve centre" over the medium and long term.
Network security has been an issue between Switzerland and the EU ever since a blackout in Italy in September 2003 plunged 57 mm Italians into darkness. The blackout was triggered by a tree falling on a power line in central Switzerland -- when the electricity was not properly diverted, the Italian network collapsed.
Switzerland and Italy promptly blamed each other, but the Energy Office eventually said the whole European
electricity market was responsible for the breakdown. It said there were conflicts of interest in addition to
technical and legal issues.
The new bilateral accord should put an end to those stumbling blocks.
In September 2005 the House of Representatives voted in favour of a two-stage approach to liberalisation of Switzerland's electricity market. The move foresaw opening the market first to big electricity providers and later to private homes.
The government had argued that Switzerland, as a European power hub, could not stand apart as the internal EU electricity market became more developed. Under the draft law, all end-users would be able to choose their supplier freely by 2007. Such a change would bring Swiss legislation closer into line with that of the EU, which also wants to introduce consumer choice.