ZURICH - The Swiss government on Friday approved a new negotiating mandate for talks with Brussels to modernize the country's relationship with the European Union after a previous bid unraveled in 2021.

Switzerland has said unrestricted access to the EU marketplace is the cornerstone of the plan, which aims to update existing accords with the single market, and seal new sectoral agreements in areas including electricity and food safety.

"The negotiations on the package aim to stabilize and further develop bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union," the government said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a press conference he hoped talks could begin this month, and that his government wanted an "equitable" outcome. The quality of an accord would not be sacrificed in the interests of speed, he said.

Both sides had previously spent years thrashing out a new bilateral deal, but critics argued it excessively infringed Swiss sovereignty, leading to the collapse of the plan in 2021.

Wealthy, neutral Switzerland has long had powerful internal resistance to closer integration with the EU, even as supporters of closer ties warn that the country cannot expect to benefit from the bloc without making concessions.

Before agreeing the negotiating mandate, Switzerland undertook a consultation process with powerful interest groups, including its cantons, and any accord with Brussels could still face a severe test in a traditional Swiss referendum.

Cassis said a "clear majority" of stakeholders backed the talks with Brussels but noted that most proposals submitted to "tighten" or "clarify" the mandate related to electricity, international rail travel, immigration and wage protection.

"The more we get to our goals with the EU, the less we will have to alter on the domestic political front," he said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Richard Chang)