“A new beginning, a new chapter in the history of relations between Switzerland and the EU”

And what is simmering around it

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

The Federal Council’s decision to break off negotiations with Brussels has made the Swiss EU turbos get going. Ever since it was foreseeable that the balloon of the Framework Treaty as a precursor to EU accession would burst, they come forward loudly with bizarre demands and actions.
  Unimpressed by this, the Federal Council convincingly justified its decision to break off the negotiations in its media release and at the media conference on 26 May and faced upright and calmly the provocative questions of the journalists.

It is always the same few people and organisations who would like to see Switzerland become an EU member state long ago. These include some university lecturers such as Thomas Cottier, who obviously does not like the Swiss understanding of the state: “In Switzerland, from the left to the right, there is a very conservative, national understanding of sovereignty, which is directed towards self-determination, autonomy and partly even autarky. Any international obligation is seen as a loss of sovereignty […].”1 How else should one define sovereignty? Only the last sentence must be vehemently contradicted: we Swiss are not that selfish! Switzerland's commitment to the ICRC and the Geneva Conventions, development cooperation and the provision of good offices – to name a few of the most important areas of Swiss foreign policy – are precisely part of Swiss sovereignty.

Federal Council: Continuation of the proven bilateral cooperation is in the interest of both sides.

Because most Swiss still know what sovereignty means, there is relief in broad circles of the population at the Federal Council's decision to end the Framework Agreement experiment. Meanwhile, supporters of closer integration into the EU claim that the termination is a sign of weakness, that the Federal Council has no plan on how to “save the bilateral agreements”, and the like.
  Anyone who has read the Federal Council’s media release of 26 May and listened to the one-and-a-half-hour media conference on the same day will get a very different impression: standing up as a national government and stating that the years of negotiations have not succeeded in achieving a treaty that is not only beneficial for Brussels but also for Switzerland is not without its difficulties.
  In its media release, the Federal Council states that Switzerland can certainly put itself on an equal footing with the EU: “From the Federal Council’s point of view, it is in the common interest of Switzerland and the EU to continue the proven bilateral cooperation despite the failure of the InstA. This cooperation is based, among other things, on over 100 bilateral treaties. With its 27 member states, the European Union is Switzerland's most important partner. Conversely, Switzerland is one of the most important trading partners for the EU: number 4 in trade in goods, number 3 in services and number 2 in investments. In addition, the EU has a trade surplus in the double-digit billions. 1.4 million EU citizens live in Switzerland. In addition, there are about 340,000 cross-border commuters from the EU […].”2
  After these and other generally understandable explanations, also at the media conference on 26 May, President Guy Parmelin, Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter and Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis faced the mostly provocative questions of the journalists with composure.3 
  No, today was not a “mercredi noir”, President Parmelin replied to a journalist: “We are at a new beginning, a new chapter in the history of our relations between Switzerland and the EU.” He said the Federal Council would work to update the existing agreements in the interests of both sides. “To cushion negative consequences, the Federal Council has for some time begun to plan and partially implement reception measures.” In the area of medical devices, for example, the Federal Council “has already decided on unilateral measures to ensure security of supply and market surveillance in the event that the corresponding chapter of the MRA [Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade] is not updated.”

Cost estimates are one thing – the Swiss model can withstand even more severe storms

More generally, Federal Councillor Cassis remarked on the enormous economic damage that the business association economiesuisse in particular has been operating with for years in case the framework agreement fails: “The past has shown us that cost estimates are often a mere token exercise, and the Federal Council has been wrong very often.” Guy Parmelin pointed to the forecasts on immigration before the conclusion of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (Bilaterals I) as an example: “According to the estimates of various experts, there were a maximum of eight to ten thousand net annual immigrants to Switzerland. Today we see where we actually stand.” [up to ten times more per year]. – A journalist insisted that Seco (the Federal Office for Economic Affairs) had once “calculated a range of around 400 to 600 billion francs by 2035” if the Bilateral Agreements were to be abolished. President Parmelin commented: “It is extremely difficult to estimate the costs to which Switzerland would be subjected. One example: the non-recognition of stock market equivalence, where we had to find pragmatic solutions and found them. At the time, the consequences were dramatised.”
  And how! When the gloomy forecasts are in the newspapers every day, it brands itself in the brain cells – unless we don’t let it stop us from thinking. A phenomenal experience that has stuck in the memory of most Swiss people is the disastrous prophecies made before the 1992 vote on EEA membership in the event of a No vote by the sovereign. None of this came true, and the Swiss economy continued to develop splendidly.
  The most important factors for the good state of our economy are in fact based on the strengths of the Swiss model, namely direct democracy, federalism and the principle of subsidiarity, a small-scale economy (company locations also in the rural and mountain cantons), dual vocational training, the militia principle and the commitment of citizens to the common good. If we citizens cultivate these strengths, our economy, together with the authorities in the communes, cantons and federal government, can also find flexible solutions. The prerequisite for this is that Switzerland remains as independent as possible.

Bustling actions of some EU turbos

EU accession with Swiss wage protection, public service and the Swiss franc?
A few SP parliamentarians apparently want to be hell-bent on getting their own way. For example, Co-Party President Cédric Wermuth proclaims: “The Framework Agreement is actually the worst of all variants for a secure relationship with the EU. The opening of accession negotiations would solve Switzerland's sovereignty problem.”4 True, EU accession would indeed solve the question of Swiss sovereignty – if one considers its abolition as a “solution”. And the Swiss wage protection, which Wermuth rightly defends, would then be swallowed by the EU?
  National Councillor Fabian Molina (SP, ZH), for his part, has tabled a motion to instruct the Federal Council to enter into accession negotiations with the EU. In addition to wage protection, his list of demands to Brussels also includes maintaining the high quality of the Swiss public service and the Swiss franc.5 After the failed negotiations with Brussels, everyone should have understood that the EU is not very fond of independent positions from contractual partners.
  Now Molina’s motion to leave the EU has been thrown out by his own parliamentary group. On 8 June, Swiss television reported: “It remains to be seen whether the SP as a party will ultimately follow the demand for accession. The SP will clarify its European policy goals by next spring[!]. Critics of the framework agreement will also be involved in this process.”6
  This does not sound like much enthusiasm for accession on the part of the comrades – who knows whether they want to delete the EU accession goal from their party programme?

Markwalder, “Operation Libero” & Co indignantly call for a referendum
Of all people, those who want to sink direct-democratic Switzerland into the undemocratic EU construct are now scream blue murder because the Federal Council, by breaking off negotiations, is allegedly overriding the people’s right of co-determination. The EU turbos Christa Markwalder (FDP, BE), Tiana Moser (GLP, ZH) and other members of the National Council’s APK demanded in a letter of 18 May that the Federal Council submit the framework agreement to parliament and then only subject it to an optional referendum.7
  Meanwhile, the think tank “Operation Libero” senses “great unease in civil society” and is therefore planning a popular initiative of still undetermined content to bring closer ties between Switzerland and the EU into the Federal Constitution. Incidentally, the “civil society” supporting the project consists mainly of the New European Movement (of which Markwalder was formerly president; today’s president: Eric Nussbaumer, also an SP National Councillor and APK member) and the Foreign Policy Society (of which Markwalder is now president).8
  Again, it’s always the same few people who don’t like the Swiss model. Fortunately, most voters refuse to let their common sense be switched off.  •



1 Tribelhorn, Marc; Gafafer, Tobias. “Ich würde Ihnen widersprechen: Die Schweiz ist ein Teilmitglied der EU” (I would disagree with you: Switzerland is a partial member of the EU.” Interview with Thomas Cottier and André Holenstein. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 26 May 2021.
2 “Das Institutionelle Abkommen Schweiz-EU wird nicht abgeschlossen.” (The Switzerland-EU Institutional Agreement will not be concluded.) Federal Council media release of 26 May 2021.
3 Federal Councillors Parmelin, Cassis and Keller-Sutter on: Institutionelles Abkommen Schweiz-EU. (Switzerland-EU Institutional Agreement.) Media conference on 26.5.2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzL_cScGsOY
4 Neuhaus, Christa. “Das Rahmenabkommen ist ja eigentlich die schlechteste aller Varianten für ein gesichertes Verhältnis mit der EU.” (The Framework Agreement is actually the worst of all options for a secure relationship with the EU.) Interview with Cédric Wermuth. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 22 May 2021
5 Vögeli, Dorothee. “SP-Nationalrat Fabian Molina findet den EU-Beitritt die beste Option – nun möchte er im Parlament Druck aufsetzen.” (SP National Councillor Fabian Molina thinks EU accession is the best option – now he wants to put pressure on Parliament.) In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 6 June 2021
6 Washington, Oliver. “Neue Ideen zur Europapolitik kursieren im Bundeshaus.” (New ideas on European policy are circulating in the Federal Parliament.) In: SRF News of 8 June 2021
7 Feusi, Dominik. “Die Rettungsversuche für das Rahmenabkommen (2): Der Plan von Christa Markwalder und den EU-Diplomaten.” (The rescue attempts for the Framework Agreement (2): The plan of Christa Markwalder and the EU diplomats.) In: Nebelspalter of 21 May 2021
8 Washington, Oliver. “Rahmenabkommen: Volksinitiative soll Druck auf Bundesrat erhöhen.” (Framework Agreement: Popular initiative to increase pressure on Federal Council.) In: SRF News of 18 May 2021

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