Switzerland’s place in Europe

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

Switzerland lies at the heart of Europe. It is closely connected with its neighbouring states, the other European states and the European organisations – since time immemorial and of its own accord, not because an office in Brussels demands it.
  This is shown by the programmes of the National Council and the Council of States for the current summer session. In the Council of States on 1 June and in the National Council on 7 June, an impressive series of reports were/are on the agenda. These are the reports of the “Delegations for relations with neighbouring states”; the “EFTA/European Parliament Delegation”; the “Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE”; the “Parliamentary Delegation to the Council of Europe”; the “Delegation to the Interparliamentary Union”; the “Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie”; and the “Swiss Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly”. We are present everywhere, whether as a member or as an observer delegation, and that is a good thing.
  It would be advisable for the members of parliament to use the meetings with EU and NATO members of parliament to introduce them to the Swiss model. For it is striking how little some decision-makers in the Western states – even some ambassadors in Bern! – know Switzerland and understand its position. It is up to our parliamentarians and diplomats to lay the necessary groundwork.

What follows is a brief critical overview of some of the reports and an appreciation of the report on relations with neighbouring countries, the cultivation of which is particularly important for every country.

Swiss Delegation to EFTA and to the European Parliament
(Report 22.010 of 31 December 2021)

With regard to EFTA, the delegates were mainly concerned with new and planned free trade agreements and reviewed the compliance of the contracting states with labour and environmental regulations. Relations with the EU are well known: Brussels insists on “clarification of institutional issues” as a condition for updating existing and concluding new “market access agreements”. (Parenthesis note: Some of these do indeed open up market access to Switzerland for the EU rather than vice versa, for example the overland transport agreement, because north-south truck transit benefits almost exclusively the EU states).
  The Swiss delegation rightly rejects the expulsion from the EU's education and research programmes because of Switzerland’s unwillingness to sign a framework agreement dictated by Brussels: “In the delegation’s view, this political linkage between market access and cooperation agreements remains irrelevant and incomprehensible.” (Conclusions, Report, p. 10) Therefore, it seems that the main activity of the delegates in 2021 was – and will be in 2022 – to lobby from one EU body to the next and from one member state to the other to ask for access to Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and what they are all called. There are truly more meaningful things to do in the mutual relations of the European peoples! Especially since Switzerland knows how to counter the harassment from Brussels with creative and cost-effective solutions.

Swiss Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
(Report 22.011 of 31 December 2021)

The scope of activities of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the importance it could also have today for law and peace have already been outlined several times in Current Concerns. Switzerland has always played an active role in the OSCE. The introduction to the detailed report mentions the engagement of Swiss diplomacy since 2014 in the effort to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis, with special mention of Ambassador Heidi Grau’s mandate as OSCE Special Envoy to Ukraine in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
  How much the Swiss diplomats could achieve on the ground of impartiality in this unfortunate country, whose people and their belongings are being sacrificed to the power madness of what was once the only superpower, we do not know. What we do know: Without strict adherence to neutrality towards both warring parties, Switzerland will not be perceived as a trustworthy interlocutor, neither in Ukraine nor elsewhere. But all is not yet over – one should never give up hope that human reason will prevail. By offering Good Offices, Switzerland could contribute far more in today’s as in any war situation than by chasing Russian assets (without any proof of their illicit acquisition!).

Swiss Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly1

What are Swiss parliamentarians doing at NATO? Well, they attend the meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA)2 as well as its seminars and working meetings and are “informed” there about NATO’s views and objectives. The president of the NATO PA is – as one would expect – a US-American, Gerald E. Connolly, and he set the tariff at the spring session of 2021 (i.e., one year before the Russian military operation in Ukraine). There was talk, for example, of “revitalising transatlantic relations through a renewed US commitment” or of the upcoming “revision of NATO’s [outdated] strategic concept”, because it “still talks about Russia as a partner, and China is not mentioned and climate change is barely mentioned” (Report, p. 3). On a total of 14 pages, the entire programme of the USA/NATO war power can be read, which was announced to the Swiss delegates on various occasions.
  Conclusions of the Swiss delegation: “Many of the topics dealt with by the NATO-PA are also important for Switzerland's security policy”, for example the new NATO Strategic Concept, the tensions between NATO and Russia, the rise of China or the fight against terrorism and cyber threats (Report, p. 14).
  What is urgently recommended to the National Councillors and Councillors of States of neutral Switzerland is to obtain security and geopolitical information from states and alliances of states outside NATO as well as from independent experts. It would be necessary! (See box “Who is pushing Switzerland into NATO”?)

Delegations for relations with the neighbouring states: a happy thing

Since 2003, Swiss parliamentary delegations have maintained regular relations with the parliaments of the five neighbouring states (Delegation for relations with the German Bundestag (Del-D), the Austrian Parliament (Del-A), the French Parliament (Del-F), the Italian Parliament (Del-I) and the Parliament of the Principality of Liechtenstein (Del-FL).)3 The activities of the individual delegations vary according to the current situation; in the reporting year 2021, they had to be resumed after the break resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  As an example, the Del-A is singled out here; it consists of six members of the National Council and four members of the Council of States; its counterpart comprises twelve members of the Austrian National Council and one member of the Federal Council. Their meeting last year took place on 1-2 July in Brunnen on Lake Lucerne. It served to cultivate relations and gave the visitors an insight into the economic and cultural background of the region. The programme included a visit to the production site of the world-famous Swiss pocket knives, the Victorinox company, as well as to the Bundesbrief Museum and the Morgarten memorial. (Del-A report of 19 July 2021).
  A central topic of discussion in 2021 was understandably the conclusion of the negotiations on the institutional framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU. The exchange with the Austrian parliamentarians was enjoyable and forward-looking. The Swiss participants explained the reasons which, from their point of view, had led to the breakdown of negotiations. “They emphasised that Switzerland remains a close and reliable partner of the EU even after this decision and that it is in the interest of all parties to continue the proven cooperation in many areas.” The Austrians and Swiss agreed that Switzerland’s participation in the EU Framework Programmes, in particular the Horizon research programme, should be considered separately from the question of an institutional agreement and [...] is in the interest of the entire European research landscape.” The Austrians showed understanding for Switzerland’s situation and assured that Austria would “work at EU level for the closest possible relationship between Switzerland and the EU” (Annual Report 22.017, p. 6).
  The return visit of the Swiss to Vienna has now taken place on 4/5 April 2022. The focus here was on the implementation of the strategic partnership that the two foreign ministers had decided on in the summer of 2021.4 The two parliaments see themselves as “providing impetus for concrete projects, for example for a cross-border exchange in the area of apprenticeship training”. A happy thin
g.  •

1 Report 22.015 of the Swiss Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly of 31 December 2021 https://www.parlament.ch/centers/kb/Documents/2022/Kommissionsbericht_NATO-V_22.015_2021-12-31.pdf
2 The NATO PA is a discussion forum in which a total of 269 parliamentarians from the 30 NATO member states deliberate on security and defense policy issues. In addition, delegates from eleven associated states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Austria, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Ukraine) can participate in the deliberations. Russia’s participation has been suspended since 2014. (Source: German Bundestag, NATO Parliamentary Assembly)
3 Annual Report 22.017 Report of the Delegations for the Maintenance of Relations with Parliaments of Other States of 31 December 2021.
4 “Federal Councilor Cassis on visit to Vienna: signing of a declaration of intent on the new strategic partnership between Switzerland and Austria”. Federal Council media release of 10 June 2021

On Swiss neutrality during the Ukraine war

From the Swiss Federal Council’s statement of duties

“Switzerland’s engagement within the OSCE is based on the principles of the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–2023: Considering the current volatile international context, Switzerland is committed to act as a bridge-builder for a peaceful and secure world.”

Source: Ambassador Heidi Grau as Special Envoy of the OSCE Chairman in Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group.
Federal Council media release of 15 January 2021

Ueli Maurer, Federal Councillor, speaks a straightforward language

Tages-Anzeiger: Has Switzerland positioned itself correctly in this war?
Federal Councillor Maurer: We are implementing what the Federal Council has decided by infinite wisdom.

How do you assess these “infinitely wise” decisions regarding the neutrality issue?
If you ask around here at the WEF, you have to say: We have caused a lot of damage. Many people ask for the question of trust concerning the handling of neutrality.

Source: Rutishauser, Arthur; Walser, Charlotte. “Der Benzinpreis ist in der reichen Schweiz bezahlbar”
(“The price of petrol is affordable in rich Switzerland”).
Interview with Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer.
In: Tages-Anzeiger of 25 May 2022

Who is pushing Switzerland into NATO?

mw. In unison with some parliamentarians and journalists, DDPS head Viola Amherd demonstrated at the WEF in Davos that she wants Switzerland to be closer to NATO. After their meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, both had their say on the SRF Tagesschau.
  Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, head of the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS): “Secretary General Stoltenberg clearly told me (that) if Switzerland wants closer cooperation with NATO, to whatever degree, that NATO is open and that Switzerland’s contributions are already appreciated today.” Viola Amherd did not elaborate on what “closer cooperation” should look like. Instead, she used questionable clichés: “For me it is clear that we do not want to be free riders.” SRF: “Sweden and Finland also wanted more cooperation at first, and now they want to join NATO. Will you also lead us into NATO, Madam Federal Councillor?” Viola Amherd: “That is not an issue at the moment.” (my emphasis; mw). I wonder if these tones are the result of DDPS chief Amherd’s recent visit to the USA? According to the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 14 May 2022, she discussed there possible “opportunities for even closer security policy cooperation” (Weisflog, Christian. “Die Schweiz gewinnt die USA für viele Jahre als zuverlässige Partnerin.” (Switzerland wins the USA as a reliable partner for many years to come).
  In the subsequent interview with Jens Stoltenberg, the listener did not get the impression that NATO was pressuring Switzerland to join the war alliance more strongly, although SRF interviewer Sebastian Ramspeck went to great lengths to cast neutral Switzerland in a skewed light: “Some say Switzerland is a free rider for NATO. Is Switzerland a free rider?” Jens Stoltenberg: “Switzerland is a very valued partner. We respect its neutrality. It’s up to Switzerland to decide whether it wants to continue to be a neutral state or whether it wants to join NATO.” SRF: “German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck says that he would like Switzerland to also supply military equipment to Ukraine. Do you see it that way, too?” Stoltenberg, however, was not moved to criticise Switzerland, but praised the Swiss Kfor mission in Kosovo, listed some well-known examples of closer cooperation (technological cooperation, cyber security) and added: “Always with respect for neutrality and for Switzerland’s decisions.” This did not stop the interviewer from asking the provocative question: “Would you like Switzerland to be in NATO?“ Stoltenberg (energetically): “No! I have no opinion on that. It is extremely important to me not to get involved in domestic political debates.”
  It remains to be seen whether the US-NATO bloc is actually satisfied with the already very close cooperation that has existed for a long time (contrary to neutrality!) or whether it would prefer to take over Switzerland completely. But the way in which Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, who was put on course by her visit to the USA, and Swiss television SRF are trying to completely undermine Switzerland’s already battered neutrality is “shameful”.

Source: Ramspeck, Sebastian und Kohli, Andreas. “WEF 2022: Amherd und Stoltenberg wollen enger zusammenarbeiten”
(WEF 2022: Amherd and Stoltenberg want to work more closely together).
Interview in: SRF-News of 24 May 2022

(Translation Current Concerns)

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