Thursday, April 25, 2024
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As the Swiss roll over to the EU, don’t sell our soul to Brussels


OVER the weekend the Swiss did their democratic duty and voted by referendum on five national questions and several local ones.

The electorate accepted new fighter jets for the air force and paternity leave. Zurich voted for a new football stadium, Muri bei Bern (a municipality in the canton of Bern) against an office tower promising an eyesore.

Tax deductions for families with children and a hunting law were voted down. But, most significantly, an initiative from the Swiss People’s Party to limit immigration was rejected.

Voter turnout was high at 59 per cent, second-highest in the last five years, and took place against a heated political background.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but has an accord with Brussels allowing free movement of people. The move to rein in immigration was opposed by the government.

For weeks, the television news relayed threats from the EU that the Swiss cannot – guess – ‘cherry-pick’. Either they accept freedom of movement, or all other agreements fall away.

Why spend money on defence when German Chancellor Angela Merkel – Mutti – takes care of you? Project Fear hit overdrive. Much of the media is German-owned nowadays. Even some TV correspondents are German – reports from London are given by a lady with a movies German accent and sometimes movies content!

For us Brits, as the Brexit negotiations draw nearer their deadline, this vote is a timely warning – don’t do any ‘compromise’ deals with this EU shower, or we’ll end up like the Swiss. Don’t throw your nationality and country like confetti to people who owe their soul to Germany or some other former Eastern Bloc satellite.

Got it, Bojo? Got it, Gove?

A glance at Sunday’s voting map reveals how the Federal Council – the federal government of Switzerland – managed to turn their country’s clock back about 150 years.

The Swiss have governed themselves through forms of direct democracy since the 13th century. Open air meetings survive to this day in the two small cantons of Appenzell. Napoleon tried to force a constitution on the Swiss, which they rejected; it offered nothing they did not already have.

The Swiss wrote their own confederal constitution in 1848 during a time when the Radical Party was so strong that it inflicted an early form of political correctness on the country. Imagine 100 years with New Labour running everything and you have the Radical tyranny.

The Swiss broke the Radicals’ dictatorship by introducing the popular vote. Anyone who gathers 100,000 signatures in their support is entitled to have a national or – with fewer signatures – a local vote on a question or cause.

This step ended an era when the Federal Council of seven ministers could prevent a referendum on grounds of national security, more often private or party interest.

Over the years, this instrument became refined, political careers were built on local or national campaigns. Popular votes decide foreign treaties, defence, overseas aid, raising or lowering taxes, immigration, legal, moral and medical questions.

A further safeguard was added to avoid the smaller communities always being outvoted by the five big cities – the double yes. This requires that the winner not only gains the largest number of individual votes, but also a majority of the 26 cantons and half-cantons.

When the last vote on EU membership was held in 1993, the popular vote was close. But those opposed to EU membership won two-thirds of the cantons – a political landslide in Swiss terms.

Despite the prototype of Project Fear, the margin against closer association with the EU has increased with every popular vote since – until the government withdrew its 1992 letter of application for membership only two years ago after a vote in parliament.

In Switzerland, nobody gives any politician a blank cheque. They did this time. Country voters should have demanded a double yes.

The vote on immigration resulted in an overwhelming majority of votes and cantons, but the vote on the fighter programme was won by a whisker. Had a double yes been required, two-thirds of the cantons voted in favour of the programme.

You can lay the voting maps for limiting immigration and the fighter programme on top of each other and they’re almost the same. The Italian-speaking Tessin region voted to limit immigration, but not for the fighters. The French-speaking parts and the big cities were pretty well consistent – voting for the EU freedom of movement, but against the fighter programme.

What can we learn? The media claim that women were not convinced Switzerland needs new fighters by 2030. I think this is half a story. Last time I lived in Switzerland – on the embassy staff – the Swiss controlled immigration themselves.

Every morning hundreds of thousands, mostly French and Italians, came over the frontier to work and went home every evening. There were six million Swiss and less than half a million permanently resident foreigners, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin, David Niven, Julie Andrews and Roger Moore. Serving at the embassy, one knew them.

Since the Swiss signed up to the Schengen open borders area, EU citizens can stay as long as they wish. 

Today, it’s German professionals and Balkan blue-collar workers who stay. There are now two million foreigners, mostly EU, resident in Switzerland. Many have Swiss citizenship and thus can vote. For plenty, a Swiss passport is a convenience, not an honour.

My wife and I love going to Switzerland. We play tennis there, we ski there. More and more, we shop there. The weather’s beautiful. Everything works like clockwork. The people are kind, friendly, polite, reliable and hardworking, skilled but uncomplicated and enjoy a good laugh.

How long can good old real Switzerland survive? At this rate, not much longer. They are the most responsible country on the Continent. They live at its crossroads and provide the most incredible road and rail network as a short cut for their neighbours round, through or under the Alps. Otherwise it would take a day to go round.

Do they get any thanks? No. All they experience is Germany demanding money and privileges, laying down conditions or threats.

Migration will be both ways. People in, Swiss companies and banks out – perhaps starting with UBS and Credit Suisse to Frankfurt. How long will banking secrecy last once the gnomes are in Frankfurt? Sell your Swiss francs now folks, and buy pounds. We Brits own our money.

As our local meals on wheels for the workers lady puts it: ‘They don’t use panzers nowadays, they send armies of bankers and lawyers.’

She’s right.  

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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