Considering the intense relations maintained with its European neighbours, it is crucial for Switzerland to have a focused and concerted policy in pursuing its interests with respect to the European Union (EU). Therefore, Switzerland conducts its relations on the basis of bilateral sector agreements which regulate the procedures of cooperation in clearly defined areas.
Since the Free Trade Agreement of 1972, the network of agreements has continually developed, especially in the course of the two contract packages of the bilateral agreements I (1999) and II (2004). These agreements provide both parties with extensive market access and form the basis for close cooperation in such key policy areas as research, security, asylum, the environment and cultural affairs. This bilateral approach allows Switzerland to conduct a policy of openness and close cooperation with all its European neighbours.