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BRUSSELS: European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen called for “flexibility” as talks with Switzerland’s president on Friday failed to make a breakthrough towards sealing a long-delayed cooperation agreement. Brussels has made no secret of its growing impatience to nail down a “framework agreement” to unify a patchwork of accords with Bern, 13 years in the making.

But the two sides remained at an impasse after the EU refused to budge on demands from Swiss leader Guy Parmelin to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement from the pact.

“Our position is different — it is that obviously you cannot carve out such three fundamental areas from the agreement,” EU spokesman Eric Mamer said after the 90-minute meeting. Mamer said the EU had put some “compromises” on the table and wanted them to form a basis for any future talks. “Our doors are open and at any point in time the Swiss side can contact us and we can continue the discussion,” he added. Talking before the meeting, von der Leyen insisted that it was possible to reach a deal if there was “some flexibility on both sides”.

“In a negotiation, the final metres are the most difficult,” the European Commission president said. Parmelin admitted there were “substantial differences” between the two sides and insisted he was trying to get an “acceptable agreement” that would stand up to scrutiny back home. “We agreed to stay in contact,” he said.

For the EU, the negotiations on the deal concluded in 2018 — but the Swiss have continued to press for changes and have so far balked at signing.

The agreement would rejig five major agreements within 120 bilateral accords that govern non-EU member Switzerland’s relations with the bloc.

Among other points, they touch on access to the single market and fine-tuning applicable Swiss and EU laws.

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