There is a group of students at the University of Freiburg who got to work on an enormous task under the lead of two professors. They became aware that the Swiss Federal Archive contains hundreds of thousands of documents on Swiss history which are difficult to locate and are used rarely. Twenty years ago, a team began sifting through the documents, especially on Switzerland’s foreign relations, arranging them in folders and then digitising them. This was a laborious and time-consuming detailed work. The students started with documents from 1848 - the year the federal state was founded. Until today they have come until 1975. They have gathered and digitised tens of thousands of documents and made them available to the public. Anyone can call them up and study them on the screen sitting at home and print them out as a original. Today historians like me live in a land of milk and honey and can do their research from home – at www.dodis.ch.
Let’s go back fifty years: as today it is not the first framework treaty that Switzerland wanted to conclude or better said, should be concluding with Brussels. In the 1960s, the Federal Council held talks with Brussels - on a framework agreement that was designed very similarly to the current one. In the history books, however, it is usually only briefly mentioned as an episode - perhaps with three or four sentences. We want to know more about it today and consult the original documents from that time. To this end, we will join on a small digital trip to the Federal Archive.
In the early 1960s we come across two well-known names: Friedrich Traugott Wahlen and Hans Schaffner. Wahlen was probably the most popular person during Second World War, beside General Guisan. As professor for crop farming at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, he and his students and many other helpers organised the nutrition of the population in a difficult time. Keywords are the “Plan Wahlen (Project Wahlen)” or the “Anbauschlacht (Battle for Farming)”. After the war, Wahlen worked for several years at the FAO – the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. In 1959 he was elected to the Federal Council and initially headed the Department of Economic Affairs and then the FDFA – the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, which was then called the Political Department. Almost at the same time, a second prominent figure during the Second World War was elected to the Federal Council: Hans Schaffner. During the war he was director of the wartime economy department and had made sure that some coal, oil and other urgently needed raw materials came into the country during this time. This also included fertilizers and seeds for the farmers in order to achieve the required yields.
In 1957, six countries founded the European Economic Community EEC in Rome - the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. This economic union had a political content right from the start. The preamble to the founding treaty stated that it was to become an “ever closer union”. An economic area with common external borders was planned and a common customs union should be established. The cross-border freedom of settlement for all residents was a major aim. They wanted to mix the people of Europe and thus create a consciousness of being in a European state instead of a national feeling, as it was said at that time. Jean Monnet was considered the intellectual father of this union. As an American he spoke repeatedly of the “United States of Europe” and propagated it as a path to peace.
Hans Schaffner, who later became Federal Councillor, was still delegate for trade contracts in 1957. He immediately realised that Switzerland wasn’t able to join in. And he became active and invited administrative officials from various countries to Geneva, who were also sceptical about the project. Great Britain participation was very notable. Representatives from Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland were present. In Geneva, the concept for the foundation of EFTA – the European Free Trade Association – was developed, which was then founded in Stockholm in 1960. Hans Schaffner was considered the “father” of EFTA. Its concept was based on free economic cooperation which respects the sovereignty of the countries and has no political objectives.
In Western Europe there were now two different economic organizations. Immediately after its establishment, the EFTA countries therefore decided to make contact with Brussels and to agree and implement the planned tariff degradation in Europe jointly. The common approach should be laid down in a contract. There were actually no reasons at all against it.
The following took place behind the scenes and was not in the newspaper. We consult the documents from the Federal Archives: Immediately after EFTA was established, the UK informed EFTA that it wanted to join the EEC. The EFTA colleagues were bowled over. How could that happen? Now we founded EFTA a few months ago, and already our most important member wants to leave. What was the reason?
The American ambassador announced a visit of a high-ranking representative from Washington in the Federal Parliament. On 14 July 1961 Federal Councillor Schaffner and Wahlen received a State Secretary of the US government. An employee of Schaffner made a memo (dodis.ch/30116).[see picture above] The American informed the two Federal Councillors that the presidents of the USA and Great Britain had met and decided the following. The US would not tolerate an economic agreement between the EEC and EFTA, but demanded the following from EFTA: The NATO countries within EFTA should join the EEC as soon as possible – first and foremost Great Britain, then Denmark, Norway and Portugal. Afterwards, the three neutral countries Switzerland, Austria and Sweden should start negotiations with Brussels and conclude a framework agreement or an association agreement, as he called it, which supports the political objectives of the EEC. The wording in the memo was as follows: “The Americans consider negotiations between the EEC and EFTA as a group to be undesirable and foredoomed to fail in view of a purely economic agreement.”
Now the alarm bells were ringing in the Federal Administration, and the Council acted quickly because such a message from the superpower to a small state could hardly be rejected: It formed 14 working groups with people from the administration and experts. The quickly formed “Integration Office” was to coordinate everything. The working groups covered the following areas: 1. neutrality policy, 2. problems under state law, 3. questions of agriculture, 4. freedom of settlement (free movement of persons), 5. questions of social insurance, 6. capital movements, 7. transport issues and more.
The association agreement as required by the US government should become a framework agreement that only sets out the direction in the individual areas (details to be specified later) and which creates the necessary institutions for this purpose, such as a council and an arbitration court.
One of the working groups was something very special: the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Historische Standortsbestimmung” (Working group for Historical Assessment)”. It was composed of highly respected historians and professors such as Jean Rudolph von Salis, Edgar Bonjour, Herbert Lüthy and others, and it was chaired by Minister Albert Weitnauer, a close colleague of Federal Councillor Schaffner. The historians were soon regarded as the “Council of Wise Men” and were heard in the Federal Council and in the administration. They held conferences in which Federal Councillors, Ambassadors and senior officers participated. These seminars and their topics were not public. But we find documents in the Federal Archives:
On February 24, 1962 von Salis gave a keynote address entitled: “Swiss neutrality in the light of the European and world situation” (dodis.ch/34186). This was followed by presentations such as “Switzerland’s good services as a neutral state” (Ambassador Rüegger) (cf. dodis.ch/34188). Issues of economy, freedom of movement and agriculture were other topics (see dodis.ch/34185).
The Working group of historians was listened to – and its assessments had weight, and it soon had the reputation of a council of wise men (commission de sage) (dodis.ch/R22548). The historians noted that many politicians and administrative officials in Brussels were prejudiced and did not even know Switzerland. It was therefore necessary to inform about Switzerland and its direct-democratic structures and to emphasise that Switzerland was making a constructive contribution to European integration and world peace through its policy of neutrality and good services. Switzerland can only remain politically stable and fulfil this task if it adheres to federalist and direct-democratic structures. There is a danger that these could collapse under the pressure of economic concessions.
The message of the historians was incorporated into the official papers, politics and speeches of the Federal Council. Here are two examples:
On 17 November 1961, President Friedrich Traugott Wahlen visited President Charles de Gaulle in the Elysée. We know today what the two statesmen discussed because Wahlen had drawn up a protocol of the talks. (dodis.ch/30270) A small excerpt: De Gaulle thanked Switzerland for the good work it had done to solve the Algerian problem. Wahlen, for his part, raised the problem of the Association Treaty: “[...] Another reason why we are not allowed to join the European Community [...] are the constitutional problems. In our referendum democracy, we cannot cede powers to another community which are reserved for the people, who are sovereign in the full sense of the word.” De Gaulle replied: “[...] France understands your desire for a form of understanding with the European Community that will not be easy to find. You can rest assured, however, that you will not encounter any difficulties from France.”
A few months later – in autumn 1962 – Wahlen as President of the Confederation was given the opportunity to present Switzerland to the Council of Ministers in Brussels and to report on the preparatory work for the framework agreement. The text of his speech is available today (see dodis.ch/30371). In the first part, he provided detailed information about Switzerland, its economy and its political structures. But his remarks also included the following impressive passage: “[...] However, in the agreement to be concluded with the Community, Switzerland must maintain its neutrality, which protects its independence, and its domestic structure of federalism and direct democracy. Direct democracy, federalism and neutrality have shaped the political face of Switzerland. They have grown out of its diversity and have given it political stability which, we believe, has had a positive effect on relations with third countries”.
A few weeks later – in January 1963 – it came to a drumbeat. De Gaulle’s veto prevented Great Britain from joining the EEC. Why? In March 1963 at the
“Arbeitsgemeinschaft” (the working group of the historians), Jean Rudolph von Salis gave two impressive lectures on “De Gaulle” and “Charles de Gaulle and the future of the nation state in the western world” (dodis.ch/34190). Von Salis said that de Gaulle was opposed to the USA becoming more and more involved in European politics and its dominance growing. By trying to merge the EEC to a large extent with NATO and also politically linking the neutral EFTA countries, they would not do justice to the character of the European countries. If Great Britain now joined, Charles de Gaulle feared that Anglo-American domination would become even stronger, and France would fall to become a secondary member. He wanted to prevent this by vetoing Britain’s accession to the EEC. Federal Councillor Schaffner explained it this way at a later ambassador’s meeting: De Gaulle also advocated a partnership between Europe and the United States. The Americans should be faced not only in form but also in substance with an equal Europe – not “une Europe integrée, donc diminuée” (dodis.ch/30358).
De Gaulle’s veto gave Switzerland a breathing space and saved EFTA. Discussions on the framework agreement were broken off and most of the working groups dissolved – with the exception of the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Historische Standortsbestimmung” (Working Group for Historical Assessment). EFTA was able to recover and strengthen after the turbulent years, which had almost brought its downfall. And at the beginning of the 1970s, from a stronger position, it was able to negotiate the large free trade agreement with the countries of the EC. This treaty brought economic cooperation with the EC countries on a liberal basis and without the political involvement demanded by the framework or association treaty demanded by the USA. Sovereignty was maintained and the contractors were on an equal footing. In the referendum of 1972, the free trade agreement was accepted by more than 70 per cent and by all cantons. In the years that followed, this contract was continually expanded and refined, so that today it consists of more than 100 contracts. – It is a worthy treaty based on equality which respects sovereignty and which is still in force today. It is the real foundation of Switzerland’s economic relations with the EU. Without de Gaulle, this contract would not have been possible. Without de Gaulle, EFTA would not exist for a long time, and the influence of the US in Europe would be even more dominant than it is today.
In the seventies followed tension-free “golden” years in the relationship between Switzerland and the European Community. In the eighties, however, the question of political connection arose again: EEA – application for membership – Bilateral Agreements I and II – combined with several referenda are keywords – and today again a framework agreement. (see Current Concerns No 10 of 8 May) •
ww. The President of the „Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Historische Standortstimmung” (Working group for historical Assessment), Minister Albert Weitnauer (number 2 in the FDFA, then Political Department) was for many years a close staff member of the Federal Councillors Wahlen and Schaffner. He played a key role in the discussions and negotiations with EEC and later EC and also with GATT. He organized and chaired around forty meetings and seminars for historians, federal councillors, ambassadors, administrative officials, senior officers, etc. (dodis.ch/R22548). In 1980, a new head of the FDFA (the Political Department) was elected: He ordered him to his office and told to dismiss him six months before his regular retirement – quite the American way. Weitnauer was seriously offended and wrote a book entitled “Rechenschaft - vierzig Jahre im Dienst des Schweizerischen Staates (Accountability – forty years in service of the Swiss state)”. He writes: “As far as foreign relations in particular are concerned, my boss once told me with great frankness that he was in no way able to share my convictions on the essence of foreign policy. “(Weitnauer 1981, p. 242) - This was the end of the „Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Historische Standortbestimmung” (Working group for historical Assessment) - the Council of Wise Men. The working group was dissolved after a short attempt to continue. The era of EEA, of application for membership and of bilateral treaties had started.
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