Caring for Switzerland

Reclaiming Sovereignty and Neutrality!

by Dr. iur. Marianne Wüthrich

On 1 August

“We live in uncertain times. The last few years have shown that even democracy cannot be taken for granted, even in places where it is considered to be well established. It is dependent on citizens respecting and protecting free speech, questioning simple rhetoric and taking verifiable facts seriously. […] The situation becomes dangerous when the only truth we accept is what we want to hear. Democracy rests on a series of fundamental pillars. If just one of these key elements begins to crumble, the entire edifice is weakened.” (Walter Thurnherr, Swiss Federal Chancellor)1

Federal Chancellor Thurnherr2 here addresses fundamental elements of the direct democratic constitutional state that we should keep in mind – especially in times of severe crises – if we do not want to abandon the Swiss state model to gradual dissolution in the EU-NATO pie.
   A brief overview of the last 30 years of Switzerland’s EU policy and the paramount importance of direct democracy as a whole may perhaps lift up dispirited minds. As far as neutrality is concerned, our politicians and media are strongly advised to listen a little more to the people instead of confusing their minds. A follow-up survey conducted by the ETH Zurich in June 2022 showed that the vast majority of the Swiss remain committed to the principle of neutrality even in adverse times – albeit with individual puzzling contradictions that can only be understood as the result of a propaganda contrary to the truth.

Democracy depends on
respecting and protecting free speech

We must never disregard this important reminder by the Swiss Federal Chancellor, even in difficult times. The current attempts by some Swiss politicians and media to integrate Switzerland more closely into NATO and the EU have, like all political processes, a history and are always brought into play when the geopolitical situation is apparently “favourable” for such proposals. It is precisely then that it is of great importance for us citizens to also get to read and hear opinions outside the eternal mainstream and that a free discussion with our fellow citizens and with politicians remains possible. Chancellor Thurnherr probably wrote his preface to the brochure The Swiss Confederation – a Brief Guide 2022 a few months before 24 February, but his statement “[t]he situation becomes dangerous when the only truth we accept is what we want to hear” is a highly topical reminder.
    As far as Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is concerned, there is strikingly often talk of European “solidarity”, today. In view of the Ukraine crisis, it is said, “Europe” must “move closer together” and Switzerland must not “stand on the sidelines”. It’s all over town: Without the direct-democratic rights of the Swiss electorate, we would have become a member of the EU 30 years ago. We Swiss should have a little more courage to go our own way than our Federal Councillors are having at the moment. Do we really have to copy every piece of paper from Brussels headquarters (or from even further west) into a Federal Council decree within 24 hours and obediently implement it? Without taking into account the foundations of our understanding of the state and without adhering to the binding constitutional and human rights foundations of our constitution? Where are we going with this?

Staying on the Swiss path
in the midst of Europe

The Swiss way to exist as a sovereign country in the midst of the centralist EU construct and to come to an understanding with Brussels and the individual European countries is a high art, but it is possible. With the Free Trade Agreement of 1972 between the EFTA member states and the EEC, Switzerland had found a way for economic exchange that was suitable for democracy. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 1990s, Swiss supporters of EU accession in politics, the media and the federal administration formed themselves in lockstep with Brussels. In a surprise coup, the Federal Council submitted its application for EU membership to Brussels in 1991 and wanted to integrate Switzerland quickly into the EEA as a first step. Thanks to direct democracy, this failed: On 6 December 1992, the Swiss people said “No” to the EEA. This effectively put EU accession off the table. Since then, however, the EU turbos have not moved away from their goal – they are free to do so. But those citizens who want to keep a democratic and, as far as possible, sovereign Switzerland often do not have an easy time when it comes to protecting the freedom of opinion. It is particularly worrying that the “simple rhetoric” that the Swiss Chancellor rightly advises us to question often comes from the federal administration or is at least actively supported by it with the use of taxpayers’ money. For example, the claim that the Swiss economy would plummet as a result of a No to the EEA. As everyone knows, it was not true.

“Taking verifiable facts seriously”

If one wants to understand the history of Swiss relations with the European Union, one would do well to also consider this advice by Walter Thurnherr. The next steps taken by the Federal Council and Parliament after the sovereign’s rejection of the EEA were the Bilateral Agreements I and II of the 2000s. Just a brief comment on this: The referendum against the Bilateral Agreements I was mainly held because of the feared effects of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons and the Agreement on Land Transport, which are of great interest to the EU and its member states, but which have brought the absorption capacity of our small country to its limits and have de facto invalidated the article on the protection of the Alps in our Federal Constitution. The EU turbos (including the federal administration) defeated the referendum with factual claims and blatantly trivialising figures. For example, they assumed an average net immigration of 8,000 per year, whereas the actual immigration was up to ten times that amount. And they promised a maximum of 650,000 annual lorry journeys across the Alps, while they actually exceeded one million already in the first few years.

Prosperous cooperation between states and
confederations of states is only possible from equal to equal

Be that as it may, the Bilateral Agreements I and II were accepted by the Swiss people in referendum votes or tacitly, we have come to terms with them and are prepared to continue to apply them and, if necessary, to update them in the interest of both sides. To this end, a bureaucratic monstrosity like the “institutional framework agreement” is completely unnecessary, because we Swiss are known to be flexible when something makes sense to us. That is why we are happy to provide financial support for meaningful projects in EU countries, for example in the area of vocational training. But we are allergic to any coercive mechanism and to any imposition of foreign law and its interpretation by foreign courts. All this contradicts the Swiss understanding of the state, according to which we citizens are accustomed to keeping the reins in our own hands.
    Is that so difficult to understand? The fact that the EU commissioners cannot understand it just proves that the two systems are not compatible. And the “argument” of some Swiss politicians and media that Switzerland must subordinate itself to the EU because the latter is bigger provokes the reflex to recommend to these fellow citizens a remedial course in civics. For example, the fact that the cantons with a few tens of thousands of inhabitants (such as Uri or Glarus) have in many respects the same weight as the million-strong cantons of Zurich and Bern (majority of the cantons, Council of States) is in line with the Swiss understanding of democracy and federalism. We find similar examples in other countries around the globe. It is hard to see why the “Rule of Law” invented in Washington or the centralist EU set of rules should apply to peoples who have a different understanding of law and culture.

Neutrality is part
of the DNA of the Swiss

Switzerland’s neutrality was not invented by the Congress of Vienna of 1814/15, but is part of the DNA of the Swiss, so to speak. Neutral arbitrators were already appointed according to the oldest letters of confederation, and without mediating personalities the Confederation would probably hardly have survived its numerous internal struggles as well as 300 years of religious division. Externally, the Defensionale of Wil of 1647 set an example after the Thirty Years’ War: “No passage of foreign troops” was a central aspect.
    The principle of neutrality is deeply rooted in the Swiss population. On 16 March 1986, more than 75 per cent of the voters and all the cantons voted against Switzerland joining the UN. This was not because the Swiss did not want to make their humanitarian, economic and cultural contribution to the world community: Switzerland worked actively in all UN sub-organisations and paid many times more than the membership fee would have amounted to, and with international Geneva it also provided extensive infrastructure to the UN organisations. But the obligation of UN member states to take sanctions on the basis of a decision by the UN Security Council or even to undertake military missions is not compatible with Swiss neutrality – at least this was clear to the voters at the time.

Shaking the perpetual
armed neutrality

“It is enough for a single essential element to start slipping to make the whole edifice totter.” So warns Chancellor Thurnherr. This is particularly true of the principle of neutrality: it has been slipping from within and without since the 1990ies. We Swiss would do well to be vigilant so that our negligently shaken edifice can be put back on solid ground.
    In 1994, the member states of the CSCE (later OSCE), including Switzerland, were invited by the North Atlantic Council, i.e., the heads of state and government of the NATO member states, to participate in the Partnership for Peace. Purpose of the PfP: “Operationally under the authority of the North Atlantic Council, the Partnership for Peace will forge new security relationships between the North Atlantic Alliance and its partners for peace. […] The Partnership will expand and intensify political and military cooperation throughout Europe […]”, and so on.3 Incidentally, the “democratic states in the east of us” (!) were primarily addressed – as early as 1994!
    Switzerland and other neutral states in Western Europe could also be included in the same process. On 30 October 1996, “Switzerland” declared in the “Bulletin on Swiss Security Policy 1996/97” that it had “taken note of NATO’s invitation and decided to participate in the Partnership for Peace”.4
    The explosive aspect of this: the “decision of Switzerland” was printed in a mere “presentation document” in a bulletin of the ETH, from which it was not even apparent who had made the decree in the name of Switzerland. This serious step away from neutrality was taken knowingly and willingly behind the backs of the people. In Switzerland’s direct democracy, decisions of this magnitude are usually taken by the sovereign. The writer, – God knows – a Swiss voter who is active and interested, only learned a few years later, when collecting signatures for the referendum against Swiss military missions to “promote peace” abroad, that Switzerland was already largely linked to NATO through its participation in the PfP.
    The Swiss army’s missions abroad were a concrete consequence of its participation in the PfP and, of course, contradicted the principle of neutrality. For this reason, the corresponding amendment to the Military Act was hotly disputed, but was finally accepted by the Swiss people in the referendum of 10 June 2001. In order to appease the people, parliament had written into the bill: “Participation in combat operations to enforce peace is excluded.” (Art. 66a para.2; emphasis mw) However, it later turned out that the distinction between “peace-promoting” and “peace-enforcing” actions in crisis areas was in the dark even for military experts …
    On 3 March 2002, the Swiss finally voted to join the UN with only 54.6 per cent in favour and 12 cantons against 11, and next year Switzerland will have a seat on the UN Security Council. The then head of the FDFA, Joseph Deiss, had declared before the vote that a seat in the Security Council was compatible with neutrality, which apparently did not convince a strong minority of voters.

Swiss voters stand strong on neutrality

In June, the ETH carried out a follow-up survey to the “Security 2022” study, because after the survey in January one wanted to determine “possible effects of the war in Ukraine in the Swiss electorate‘s opinion on foreign, security and defence policy”.5
    Fortunately, the vast majority of respondents clearly stuck to neutrality - the Federal Council‘s de facto renunciation of the neutrality policy and the months-long disinformation campaign by the authorities and the media had surprisingly little effect. The record high approval of 97% (!) for the statement “Switzerland should maintain its neutrality” from January was indeed not reached in June, but the 89% achieved (p. 30) is also a very high value. It is purely a case of mood-mongering when the Federal Council - and with it all the mainstream media - comment that the war is leading to “a more critical view of Swiss neutrality”.6 Absolutely contrary to the facts is the Federal Council’s assertion: “At the same time, security policy cooperation with Nato or the EU is becoming more popular.” In fact, there is no significant difference in the approval of joining Nato, which has been weak for decades (January 26 %, June 27 %). The fact that a good half of respondents think Switzerland should “move closer to Nato” (p. 24) is of little significance in view of the very open wording.
    On the subject of “sanctions against Russia”, on the other hand, the confusion of minds caused by disinformation is abundantly clear: over 70 % think that sanctions are compatible with neutrality! And only 36 % are of the opinion that Switzerland can no longer offer its Good Offices as a result of its sanctions against Russia. (p. 39) Although this result corresponds to the Federal Council‘s mantra-like repetitions, it is certainly not the truth.
    There is a reason why many Swiss cling to the alleged compatibility with neutrality of the Russia sanctions, which violate the constitution and international law, (which makes the Federal Council‘s misleading even more outrageous): Absolute favourites of the Swiss voters surveyed are still Good Offices and mediation in conflicts: 91 % approval (95 % in January) to “Thanks to neutrality, Switzerland can mediate in conflicts and provide Good Offices internationally” (p. 32) and even an increase from 75 % to 78 % to “Switzerland should mediate more in conflicts” (p. 20).
    It is about time that we citizens protest loudly against the fact that our government is undermining neutrality and thus gambling away Switzerland’s credibility! In any case, there is still hope in Switzerland’s direct democracy.

1Introduction to The Swiss Confederation – a Brief Guide 2022 (excerpt). Published by the Swiss Federal Chancellery
2The Swiss Federal Chancellor is the Chief of Staff of the Federal Council with an advisory vote and the right to make proposals; he is often referred to as the “eighth Federal Councillor”.
3“Partnership for Peace. Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels” of 10/11 January 1994. Invitation
5Tresch, Tibor Szvircsev; De Rosa, Stefano; Ferst, Thomas; Rohr, Patric; Robert, Jacques. “Nachbefragung der Studie ‘Sicherheit 2022’ auf Grund des Krieges in der Ukraine.” Militärakademie (MILAK) an der ETH Zürich. Report of 14. Juli 2022 (Follow-up survey of the “Security 2022” study due to the war in Ukraine. Military Academy (MILAK) at ETH Zurich. Report of 14 July 2022)
6“Nachbefragung ‘Sicherheit 2022’: Kritischere Betrachtung der Neutralität, grösserer Pessimismus und stärkere Befürwortung der Armee infolge des Krieges in der Ukraine”. press release of the Federal Council of 14/07/2022 (Follow-up survey “Security 2022”: more critical view of neutrality, greater pessimism and stronger support for the armed forces due to the war in Ukraine. Federal Council media release of 14 July 2022)


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