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Swiss step up the fight against sell-out to EU


THIS week’s Sontag Zeitung, the Swiss Sunday newspaper,carried a full-page interview with the founders of a new group campaigning against the proposed framework agreement offered by the EU to the Swiss that I have commented critically on in these pages before – here and here

They describe the mooted deal as one-sided, expensive and intended to undermine direct democracy. There’s nothing bilateral about expecting a neighbouring country to adopt your laws. 

The campaign, Allianz Kompass / Europa (German for ‘Alliance Compass / Europe’), has as its leading lights Alfred Gantner, a founder partner of Partners Group – an investment company now worth 27billion Swiss francs (about £22billion) – and Philip Erzinger, a former top manager at Credit Suisse.  

With them are about 250 well-known businessmen, from the ‘Andrew Neil’ of Swiss TV, Kurt Aeschbacher, to my wife’s teenage coach as a junior ski teacher, the many times alpine ski racing champion Bernhard Russi.  

Bernhard was as famous as Swiss tennis star Roger Federer in his day and remains very popular. Looks good as well, advertising reading glasses! Former and current big names in business, banking and tourism are among the group. Their manifesto can be found here.

They say that the EU calculates that Brexit will cost them three per cent growth over the coming decade. (Personally I think that’s still too low a figure, as they’re assuming UK growth will stagnate – though they’re doing their best to make sure of that with non-tariff trade barriers.)  

If the Swiss have no framework agreement, they calculate that will cost 00.1 to 0.2 per cent growth over the decade. But a framework treaty with the EU will bring EU law and costs. As of today, per capita every Swiss is 30 per cent wealthier than his or her EU neighbours. 

They argue that rejection of the framework is a no-brainer and they are starting their social media campaign in anticipation of the referendum that must take place before any treaty with the EU comes into force. 

Very politely (we’re in Switzerland), they accuse the government and establishment of a brainless sell-out. Switzerland has some aces, as they remind us – we could switch off all the lights in Lombardy if we wanted! 

These people are serious players and the first ones to truly take up the baton from Christoph Blocher, the Swiss industrialist and de facto leader of the Swiss People’s Party.

They are not alone. Less well publicised, another group, Autonomiesuisse (French for ‘Swiss Autonomy’), also took up arms. The overall message is that a lot of wise people don’t trust the current federal government and they want to make sure there’s a vote before any deal with the EU. 

What you’re seeing is the working of Swiss direct democracy in which it is incumbent upon the federal government to put any treaty to a vote. 

But a lot of people suspect they may try to dodge that one way or another. So campaigners are making it clear that they will demand a people’s vote if the government tries to avoid one. 

This is a live lesson in direct democracy – and, as you see, crosses the language frontiers. 

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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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