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Switzerland under pressure on closer relations with the EU

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Written by Adrian Hill

Adrian Hill reports a recent interview in the Swiss Der Blick newspaper with prominent Swiss businessman and Swiss sovereignty campaigner, Urs Weitlisbach and draws lessons for the UK from the Swiss-EU framework agreement under current negotiation.

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Swiss diplomats and civil servants are negotiating a new framework agreement with the EU There are signals that some of the seven strong Swiss Federal Council, have been persuaded – to withhold detailed progress reports from the voters. That implies that the EU is demanding Swiss capitulation on some matters but Switzerland is the only neutral European country still outside the EU and its economy is envied by the latter.

There are leaks. One is that the EU wants Switzerland automatically to accept all new EU laws and regulations. Keep in mind that Switzerland is a confederation – independent self-governing cantons devolve some tasks to the federal government – which has enjoyed direct democracy for hundreds of years. The Federal Council cannot sign a treaty without the people first voting whether they agree to it. And there’s often a chance they’ll vote no thanks.

Why is this of interest to British voters. Only last month the opinion polls expert, Professor John Curtiss, remarked that the UK might vote to rejoin the EU in 2040. David Lammy wrote an article in Foreign Affairs where he said Labour would not rejoin the EU or the Single Market but would negotiate better terms. That’s exactly what the Swiss are trying to achieve and it’s not a straight forward task.

Urs Weitlisbach of Partners Group and of the Euro-sceptic Kompass Europa think tank gave an interview to Switzerland’s popular Sunday tabloid, Der Blick – The View – where he sets out the snags, mantraps and clashes of civilisations. Kompass Europa are busy gathering signatures for a national referendum on whether or not to allow foreign judges to make the laws of Switzerland. Labour would face a similar battlefield.

The EU has a 220 million people market, that gives them economic teeth. Yes, and we’re already a partner. But other markets are larger and more dynamic, America and the Far East to name only two. Don’t close your eyes, the EU regulates five times as much as we do. Not everything about the EU makes sense and we do better by staying independent for foreign policy and international trade.

Asked if the Federal Council decline the EU’s terms, would not Switzerland find itself outside the EU markets. He thought it would not matter and even prove better. The USA enjoys higher export growth with the EU than Switzerland but has no bi-lateral trade agreement, nor does South Korea. China does have a trade treaty. (Negotiated by our next door neighbour.) A free trade agreement is enough. We must trade with the whole world, not be bound by a one-sided treaty with the EU. That would be a mistake.

Besides, their negotiating mandate is old wine in new hoses. The ground problem is the same as Framework Agreement 1. And it’s logical, their aim is for us to adopt their legislation. They have a tendency towards centralisation, they are bureaucratic. Our direct democracy would become hollowed out. And since when must a state, just to make a little more trade, give up its sovereignty? This is extremely dangerous. He was astonished that the cantons, which would lose a part of their sovereignty, would support something like that. Many politicians have not read the documents.

At first Urs Weitlisbach was for a framework agreement but then took the trouble to plough through the whole text. He stood fast and said that simply cannot happen. However, suggested his interviewer, the negotiators against the framework agreement have reported various negotiating successes. Urs Weitlisbach replied that it all sounds very good – only Bern has created its own reality. We must not concern ourselves with secondary  issues, we must ask ourselves this principle: are we willing to throw away our model           of success just  so that we can join in with others? We can be a part of it any way.

 

The med-tech industry see it otherwise said the interviewer. They worry about technical barriers to their products after the present framework agreement expires. That’s a good example replied Urs Weitlisbach. National Chamber MP Simon Michel’s company, Ypsomed, has risen around a hundred per cent since Framework 1 expired. The medtech industry has added 4500 work places. Obviously the sector is doing better than before.

 

Interviewer: But the science sector contradicts you – the higher schools fear they will slide into the second league if we’re not in the Horizon programme. First, replied Urs, Switzerland gives the higher schools seven billion francs a year for research. Horizon brings them three-hundred millions. They say professors won’t come here anymore yet since we were out of Horizon the Federal Technology High School ETH in Zurich (11th in the world University rankings) and the Federal School for Technology EPFL in Lausanne have recruited twenty-one new professors from the EU. These two higher schools play in the first league. Can you name a university within the EU that’s among the world top forty?Moreover 40% of students in Switzerland come from abroad. These are the facts.

Interviewer:The fact is also that hitherto the voting population has long followed the Federal Council’s lead.The FDP (liberals) and the Middle Party (Catholics) since a long time ceased their criticism of the new framework agreement.

Urs Weitlisbach: I don’t understand why the FDP doesn’t take a clear stand against the betrayal of the success model and this bureaucracy. Liberty is the reason for the Liberals. The FDP has a chance not just to defend but make the successor model a free and liberal economic and business climate for long into the future.

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Adrian Hill