by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich
With its total takeover of the EU economic sanctions against Russia, the Federal Council has disregarded the Swiss maxim of neutrality. In doing so, it may have appeased the EU top brass and US finance capital and pleased the Swiss EU turbos, but it has done serious damage to Switzerland’s reputation. It is a pity that the Federal Council is not showing the same strength today as it did in May 2021 when it broke off negotiations with Brussels on the framework agreement. The automatic adoption of foreign sanctions does not fit the Swiss model either. Now the NATO and EU turbos at home and abroad see their chance and are trying to set in motion further softening of the Swiss model.
“The caesura of the Ukraine war is changing the European security architecture. At the moment, everything is in flux, and we have to adapt in this flux – with our strong principles, including neutrality.” (President of the Confederation Ignazio Cassis in SRF News of 10 March 2022). And we citizens are supposed to watch as our “servants of the people” let neutrality – and a lot more: “everything is in flux!” – go down the drain?
Strange conception of neutrality of the Federal Council: Which master’s voice?
On 3 March, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) reissued its brochure “Switzerland’s Neutrality”.1 For example, on the subject of “Good Offices” it says: “Impartial Switzerland can build bridges where others are blocked, cooperate with diverse partners and develop its own initiatives.” (Brochure, p. 14) One page further on, it talks about Ukraine: in 2014, Switzerland only adopted measures to prevent the circumvention of international sanctions against Russia via Swiss territory (p. 15). Thanks to this moderate approach, it was able to act as a mediator in the Ukraine war within the framework of the OSCE during its chairmanship year in 2014 (p. 12). So far, so good.
In February 2022, both Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ukrainian President Selensky turned to Switzerland for mediation. This time, however, the Federal Council single-handedly obstructed the Good Offices by adopting “the EU sanctions against Russia, based on a comprehensive balancing of interests” on 28 February (p. 15). The deadly attacks and destruction against the population in the Donbass on the part of Ukraine (for eight years!) found no place in this “balancing of interests”. The Federal Council issued its decree with a long list of new sanctions on the same day (!).2 That’s how fast it works when you simply copy the Swiss legal decrees from Brussels.
In any case, the Federal Council already sees us half in the EU in terms of security policy: “For Switzerland, the EU is a central partner, also in the area of peacebuilding and security policy. Switzerland decides on a case-by-case basis and after thorough examination where it wants to cooperate with the EU in the field of security. Likewise, it decides, based on a comprehensive weighing of interests, whether and how it wants to join the EU in economic sanctions. [...] In the vast majority of cases, Switzerland supports the EU’s sanctions.” (Brochure, p. 13) We are also pretty far into NATO. The principle: “As a neutral country, which may not favour any warring party in an international conflict, Switzerland cannot belong to NATO” is immediately cracked: “However, Switzerland has participated in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) since 1996.” The Federal Council’s phrase: “This participation is compatible with Switzerland’s neutrality law and policy.” (p. 13)
To the Federal Council and Parliament in the family tree: “Maintaining neutrality is undisputed”
The Swiss electorate was wisely never asked whether Switzerland should join the PfP. For even the Federal Council cannot ignore the fact that an overwhelming majority of us Swiss want to maintain neutrality. In its neutrality brochure, it reproduces the well-known graph from the ETH on its annual surveys. In response to the question “How do you think Switzerland can best safeguard its interests and at the same time contribute to security in the world?”, around 95 % of respondents over the last ten years chose the answer: “Switzerland should maintain its neutrality.” Less than 20 % ticked: “Switzerland should take a clear stand for one side or the other in military conflicts abroad.” (Brochure, p. 10)
Journalists use the Ukraine war for rapprochement with NATO and the EU
Meanwhile, the Swiss daily press continues to crack down on neutrality. The Federal Council is asked to provide “ideas” in the addendum to the Security Policy Report 21 on “what contribution Switzerland can make to the security of Europe”. For example: “A central question concerns the further development of military neutrality. The Swiss Air Force could take over the air police service in the eastern Alpine region in the event of increased tensions for neighbouring military countries”3 (emphasis mw).
But we citizens do not want to have the term “neutrality” verbalised in this way!
In another article, Switzerland’s mediation within the framework of the OSCE in 2014 is dismissed as a veneer for profiteering: “Switzerland managed the balancing act of not upsetting either its Western partners or Vladimir Putin too much. It provided its good offices publicly effective – and did good business along the way.” At the same time, the author urges Switzerland’s rapid integration into the EU:” Moving closer together opens up new opportunities and shows that Switzerland has far more in common with the EU than separates it. For the time being, the Russian invasion puts differences over wage protection and the EU citizenship directive into perspective. For Switzerland, it becomes even more urgent to clarify its relationship with the EU, its most important partner.”4 This “justification” cannot eliminate the serious objections of the trade unions and many other citizens to the Framework Agreement.
UN Security Council seat for Switzerland (unfortunately) waved through
The opponents’ last attempt to stop the candidacy for the Security Council, which is contrary to neutrality, was waved through and rejected at high speed in the National Council on 10 March (125 votes to 56 with 8 abstentions) and in the Council of States on 14 March (26 votes to 11 with 4 abstentions). The candidacy is now certain, and Switzerland will most probably be elected by the UN General Assembly on 9 June as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2023 and 2024.
President Cassis’ assertion before the National Council that “membership is compatible with neutrality” does not become any truer through frequent repetition. The way Switzerland is behaving today in the Ukraine war, Cassis said, “is what we would have done in the Security Council”. So much the worse! In doing so, it would “break with the centuries-old tradition of Swiss neutrality” and “lose credibility in the area of ‘good offices’”, countered Council of States Member and SVP party president Marco Chiesa (TI). After all, there were also some FDP and centre politicians in both councils who voted against membership or abstained.
“Without trust, one cannot pursue a credible neutrality policy”
In today’s heated mood, few dare to back Switzerland’s perpetual armed neutrality.
Paul Widmer, long-time Swiss ambassador and lecturer at the HSG, begins by pointing out the two sides of Swiss neutrality in a newspaper commentary: “The Federal Council must absolutely comply with the law of neutrality. This means that it may not support any party militarily. Thus, Switzerland would never be allowed to supply weapons directly to Ukraine, as Sweden does.” (Sweden also calls itself “neutral”, but it is a member state of the EU and therefore committed to its security policy). “In neutrality policy, on the other hand, the Federal Council is freer,” Paul Widmer continues, but warns against being carried away by pressure from the street or the spirit of the times into an “impulsive neutrality”. For only a neutral Switzerland can “serve peace with good offices and mediation. [...] Without trust, one cannot pursue a credible policy of neutrality”. Widmer’s conclusion: “In the long run, a country like Switzerland can usually achieve more with humanitarian commitment and political restraint.”5
His word in the ear of the Federal Council! Russia has already given Switzerland a taste of its own medicine for abandoning its policy of neutrality. In a tweet on 7 March, the Russian government adopted a list of countries hostile to Russia. This includes Switzerland [Швейцария] (RIA Novosti@rian.ru, Russia). What a disgrace!
“The worse things get worldwide, the more important neutrality is”
As usual, former Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher speaks plainly – a boon in today’s situation. In a newspaper interview he says: “As a neutral state, Switzerland must not allow itself to be carried away into taking sides. [...] By participating in the sanctions, Switzerland is now at war. Yet everything should be done now to end this terrible war as quickly as possible. As a neutral country, Switzerland could have made a special contribution. But Switzerland has now carelessly squandered this opportunity.”6
The fact that the Federal Council and parliamentary majority buckled under pressure from inside and outside the country was “not an act of peace and not leadership. The worse things get in the world, the more important neutrality is. Non-interference is not just self-protection; it is what makes the Good Offices possible.”
Christoph Blocher is planning a popular initiative to strengthen the principle of neutrality in the Federal Constitution. Economic sanctions should thus no longer be possible.7 •
2 “Ordinance on Measures in Connection with the Situation in Ukraine” (922.214.171.124) of 27 August 2014 (as of 28 February 2022).
3 Häsler, Georg. “Security policy needs scenarios, not party-political compromise”. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 9 March 2022.
4 Gafafer, Tobias. “Putin’s War in Ukraine is a Wake-up Call for Switzerland”. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 10 March 2022
5 Widmer, Paul. “Neutral is not with the heart, but with the mind”. Guest commentary in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 9 March 2022.
6 Neuhaus, Christina. “Christoph Blocher: ‘The worse things get in the world, the more important neutrality is’.” Interview in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 7 March 2022
7 “Sanctions against Russia. Blocher announces popular initiative on Swiss neutrality”. In: Tages-Anzeiger of 11 March 2022 (SDA/sep)
mw. On 28 February the whole world heard that the Swiss government had abandoned neutrality. The trust that had been built up over centuries was shattered at a blow. It will take a lot of effort and goodwill to repair this serious damage. The US and UK media groups make no secret of the fact that something completely different is going on behind the scenes: Wall Street and the City of London will not object if the Swiss financial centre weakens itself...
In addition to the Swiss financial center, it is also about the united front of Europe (Switzerland included) in NATO (of course under US command):
This brings us to the slightly modified quote from the first NATO Secretary General, the British Ismail Hastings: (“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”): Keep the Russians out, the Americans up and floor whole Europe (including the former neutral states).
Source: Torcasso, David. “Ukraine-Krieg. Die Reaktionen auf den Sanktionsentscheid der Schweiz” (Ukraine war. Responses to Switzerland’s sanctions decision). Handelszeitung 1 March 2022, with links to original sources: https://www.handelszeitung.ch/politik/die-reaktionen-auf-den-sanktionsentscheid-der-schweiz
mw. The fact that the EU sanctions against Russia were so easily adopted gives the Swiss EU turbos a forceful support on other issues as well. In June 2021, for example, the Green Liberal parliamentary group submitted a postulate to the National Council with the following wording: “The Federal Council is instructed to examine the option of Swiss membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) and to report on it.”
On 8 March, the National Council adopted this postulate with 112 votes in favour (given unanimously by the Social Democrats, Greens and Green Liberals plus partly by the Free Democrats and the Centre faction) against 69 nays and 6 abstentions (of the SVP and the other part of the Free Democrats and Centre faction).
Accession to the EEA was rejected by the people and the cantons on 6 December 1992. Even though today we are only dealing with a report by the Federal Council and there is no parliamentary decision with a subsequent referendum pending, it still provides ample food for thought that so many National Councillors are considering an EEA accession, which would integrate Switzerland into Brussels legislation and jurisdiction in much the same way as the recently failed Framework Agreement.
The Green Liberal Roland Fischer lamented the breakdown of the Federal Council’s negotiations on the Framework Agreement and called for Switzerland’s accession to the EEA so that there might be “a constructive participation in the European integration project, a project that not only involves economic integration but is also a peace and democracy project”. If we want peace and democracy, had we not better stick to the Swiss model and tell our fellow human beings in other countries about it – that is if they are willing to listen?
As a counter-speaker, National Councillor Roger Köppel (Swiss People’s Party, ZH), demanded that Switzerland “finally give the European Union an unmistakable message: We want excellent relations, we want the best economic exchange possible, but we are not prepared to submit to the institutions of the European Union. We cannot do it, it would be against our constitution. We are not responsible for this fact; the Swiss sovereign is ultimately responsible. We must have the strength to (tell?) the European Union the plain truth.”
Source: Postulate 21.3678 Fischer Roland. “Integration of Switzerland into the European single market by joining the EEA”.
Minutes of the National Council debate of 8 March 2022
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