AS problems proliferate in ever more areas of the EU: Visegrad, Salvini, gilets jaunes, no-go areas, immigrant crime levels, unaffordable welfare costs – not to mention Brexit and the looming EU Parliament elections where those pesky populists might get a bit uppity – the dear leaders just soldier on regardless.
Angela Merkel has stated the EU wants to remove national governments’ powers to control their own borders, totally in line with the UN’s Global Compact for Migration, which plans to dispense with the distinction between legal and illegal immigration and has been signed up to by PM May without any consultation or agreement whatsoever. ‘Frontex must be reinforced.’
This has not gone down well in Hungary, where Secretary of State Dr Zoltan Kovacs has pointed out the EU leaders’ constant stress on border ‘management’, as opposed to the strengthening and defending of national borders, which his Hungarian people support.
At the same time, Emperor Macron has called on the 500million people in the EU to support his vision of an ever more centralised and powerful ‘Project EU’. He wants to see even more transfer of powers and sovereignty away from member states to Brussels. His most sinister move was the call to remove the ability for European countries to control their own elections and have them instead overseen by a ‘European Agency for the Protection of Democracies’, run by EU ‘experts’ sent out to each country.
Well . . . all this is not just restricted to member states. What about countries not even in the EU, but finding themselves subjected to EU ‘control creep’, such as Switzerland? You might be forgiven for thinking that the Swiss are highly resistant to any external power trying to get heavy with them. Among the nation states of Europe, it remains unique in its deeply embedded patriotic independence.
Look at the pattern of Switzerland’s development. The Confederation was founded in 1291, when the three communities of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden allied themselves against the rule of the Hapsburgs (the EU of that time). The three leaders met on the Rütli meadow and swore an oath to keep their lands free. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the allies signed the Treaty of Paris, and gave formal recognition to the ‘inviolability of Switzerland’ and its ‘perpetual neutrality’. The Swiss acquired their current border, with twenty-six semi-autonomous cantons.
The federal constitution was redrafted in 1874, when the ‘optional referendum’ was introduced, requiring any law passed by its Bundesrat to be submitted to a popular vote of at least 30,000 (50,000 from 1977). In addition, the right of the people to propose modifications to the constitution by referendum has existed since 1881. Any proposed changes require 100,000 signatures for submission to a popular vote, which also requires a ‘double majority’, i.e. of the cantons and the total vote, to be passed.
From 1945-75, the country enjoyed thirty years of unparalleled prosperity, which led to increasing numbers of work-seeking migrants. By 2000 its population had doubled. Two of its greatest resources were road and rail communications; and hydro-electric power generating affordable electricity. (But it was only in 1971 that women were granted the vote!) The country was also home to international organisations, such as the Red Cross, and the United Nations.
But since the 1990s it has had to address the challenges of increasing globalisation.
In the face of European integration, Switzerland has remained unwilling to jeopardise its independence and neutrality. It was a founder member of EFTA, and even of the Council of Europe, but only because these moves placed far fewer constraints on signatories than the EEC, later the EU. But in 1992, the country had a change of heart, at politician level, at least. The Bundesrat put in an application to join the EU, which was then rejected by voters (50.3 per cent) and cantons (16 to 7). Switzerland felt itself isolated, and anxious about its trading position. It went on to negotiate over a hundred bilateral agreements with the EU (including free movement of workers, liberalisation of heavy road traffic, mutual recognition of qualifications, etc) in order to benefit from some of the advantages offered by the EU, without succumbing to full membership. This was finalised in 2002, and meanwhile, the membership application remains ‘on ice’.
Now, in 2019, Switzerland finds itself at a crossroads. For ten years, Brussels has been pressing for a new Framework Agreement to streamline relations and ensure that EU law is applied in a standardised manner. The typical EU ‘control creep’ we have come to recognise.
In 2014, the Swiss people’s initiative ‘against mass migration’ was narrowly passed. It called for quotas for foreign nationals, and demanded that the bilateral treaty on free movement be renegotiated within three years, failing which it would be revoked, thus risking the ‘guillotine clause’ which would render all the other treaties invalid. With the EU, it tends to be all or nothing, although as the Brexit negotiations have shown, they really just prefer the ‘all’.
But by the end of 2018, the Swiss government announced its decision on the Framework, or rather its ‘non-decision’. This was largely a result of the failure to settle the long-running dispute over Swiss measures to protect its labour market. Brussels argues that the Swiss intention to prevent foreign companies undercutting local wages by bringing in cheaper foreign workers contravenes the free movement of people treaty between Switzerland and the EU. Eventually they both agreed that Switzerland would pass a watered down version of the people’s initiative, and the EU would focus on just five of the bilateral agreements: Swiss access to the EU market; free movement of people; air transport; agricultural trade; and mutual standards recognition.
What has followed is in effect an international game of poker, being played for high stakes. Read about it here: And the game is getting ever more protracted.
This control creep now determines the EU’s relationship with Switzerland. (Those William Tell types are just too damned independent!) What the EU is in business for is a federal union of all member states, and now even non-member states, under the overall control of Brussels and the EU Commission. This is certainly not the Swiss way, but the EU has a lot of face cards up its sleeve, notably financial penalties, or even denying Swiss companies access to EU markets.
However the Swiss turn out to be quite cool poker players themselves, and have come up with some innovative bids in the face of slightly nervous EU tells. What the Commission doesn’t seem to have learned yet is that it’s relatively easy to bully a little player like Malta, or Greece, or Ireland – not known historically as the world’s greatest financial supremos. But the Swiss have never been subservient. Financially they have been ‘tip top’ as they say here, running a budget surplus this year, where every other EU member is wallowing in uncontrolled crippling debt.
And that’s what the EU resents so deeply. As Tom Burroughs commented in TCW (Readers’ Comments 05/02/19): ‘Swiss relations with the EU aren’t always friendly . . . and the EU has resented how the Swiss are rich without kowtowing to Brussels.’ It’s not just political power it wants over every member state. It’s all that financial stuff too. It reckons that wealth should be subsumed into its own unaccountable coffers to be dispensed as they see fit. Surprisingly, the Swiss don’t see it like that at all. The concept of independence runs deep, and as we all know, the first condition of real independence is – financial.
So the poker game goes on. Speaking of which, I am reminded of that film The Cincinnati Kid, where the cheeky newcomer takes on the cool old master. And eventually loses. ‘You’re good, kid,’ says Edward G Robinson – the Man – ‘but not good enough.’ At first I saw Switzerland as the Kid, and the all-powerful EU as the Man. But maybe that’s not it at all. Switzerland is nothing less than the old master, having survived a thousand years of hard fought-for independence and people control. It’s the EU that’s the new kid on the block – smart, confident, ruthless. But maybe that’s not enough, Messieurs Juncker, Selmayr, Verhofstadt. Maybe the EU is good, but not good enough.
I’m just busy thinking about where to put my money on this one. Common sense tells me to go with the Man. I think the people of Switzerland might just think the same.