Why a framework agreement cannot work

Switzerland is wired differently

by Robert Seidel

In its new composition, the Federal Council would like to conclude a “framework agreement”, newly called “market access agreement” with the EU leadership by the end of 2018. After the turmoil at the end of 2017 – visit of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, early commitment to the contribution of a cohesion billion for the EU, time limitation for the recognition of Swiss access to stock markets abruptly introduced by the EU and announcement of the new head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ignazio Cassis, that he would press the reset button – now everything obviously stays the same. Or does it? Will the bullet be bitten and the subordinate role possibly accepted after all, via a framework agreement? The Federal Council would like to have various Swiss “industries” participate in its deliberations. Of course, it would be interesting to know why industries, which industries, and why exactly these? The whole thing is to be re-coordinated by the new head of the Directorate for European Affairs (DEA), the well-known EU turbo Roberto Balzaretti. He is responsible as State Secretary for the coordination of all negotiations with the European Union. So the question arises as to why the Federal Council is still maneuvering and trying to score points in Brussels?

Let’s face it: The EU has for some time now been building up an army for operations around the world, including “domestic” operations. Apparently, 70 years of peace are enough for the “peace power EU”. Less well-known, but even scarier, is the fact that in the EU states – despite the ECHR and human rights and despite persistent protests – the death penalty has been made possible again since 2008.1 Unemployment, the working poor, unregulated migration, unresolved debt problems and the sale of public services remain unresolved issues in the EU countries. This is what our contracting partner for a framework agreement looks like at first glance, from the outside.

Vote on tax rates

The EU also differs from Switzerland internally: If people in any EU country are dissatisfied with their level of taxation, they cannot influence this through a communal assembly or a cantonal or statewide vote. Tax rates are determined by the government. With very few exceptions, factual issues cannot be voted on: whether this or that building is built, or whether you have to pay radio and television fees, or if a new jet plane is to be financed – in the EU all these decisions are made by professional politicians instead of by the citizens. Politicians like Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, Emmanuel Macron, Sebastian Kurz, Silvio Berlusconi, Andrea Nahles or Mariano Rajoy make the decisions. These politicians are often passed from one political post to the next – like Jean-Claude Juncker, who switched from the post of Luxembourg Prime Minister to EU Commission President, or, in a similarly undemocratic way, Jose Manuel Barroso or Roman Prodi; only Martin Schulz had no luck with his own party on the occasion of his proposed change from the post of EU Parliament President into a new German Federal Government. All these professional politicians form their own political caste. They are not subject to the outcome of any election. They repeatedly appear in various crucial positions.

EU – government without a people

When a German Chancellor decides to open the German and thus the European borders, as Angela Merkel did in 2015, then this can be done quite simply, all laws aside. Much can be said about the EU, but one thing it is not, and that is democratic. Not everyone is allowed to play the role of Angela Merkel. If, for example, Viktor Orbán or Beata Szydło from the Visegrad states should express their wishes, then it may easily happen that their country is had up before the European Court of Justice ECJ for violating the “spirit of the EU”.
Who appoints the EU judges remains a secret and so does the reason for which they are appointed – none of them is elected by the people. Equally mysterious is the question of why a Finnish judge should judge on Italian stone oven pizzas, or a Maltese judge on the Swedish mining laws concerning iron ore mining.
With a framework agreement, pardon, a “market access agreement”, Switzerland would uncomplainingly have to implement all EU provisions. Then even a referendum or an initiative would be of no more avail. Everything would be prescribed down to the smallest details, even to the curvature of the banana, but this would of course still be relatively irrelevant. The matter becomes more interesting when we get to tax questions, financial regulations or regulations in the areas of construction or of food (for example concerning GM technology). The regulatory requirements will be substantial, and in cases of doubt, if we disagree, a “foreign judge” will turn the balance. Maybe a Portuguese or a Lithuanian … and maybe the Federal Council will then present the fact, that a Swiss was allowed sit at the table when the judgement was pronounced, as a success of its negotiating efforts with the EU.

Why no solid free trade agreement?

For whom does such subordination to the EU bring so many advantages that they have been pushing and shoving, lying, and soft-soaping us for several decades now? Even the assertion that things go better with the bilateral treaties than without them, is completely unproven. It is but an allegation. Of course, the proponents highlight the alleged benefits. But honestly, more could have been achieved with just a few well-negotiated free trade agreements. More than ever before, the bilaterals with their guillotine clause have proven to be a burden on our country.
And it is probably more due to our Federal Council’s europhile negotiations than to the EU, that no new appropriate and flexible solution has been found, which of course does not make things better. Why not, for example, re-draft the contracts between EU and EFTA? This may work without compulsion and without pressure, tailor-made for each of the many contractors.

What have we got that they do not have?

Why do we not bring all this face to face with what today constitutes part of our political coexistence:

  • We can vote at the communal, cantonal and federal levels on a wide range of topics, including fundamental issues. No citizen in the entire EU is allowed to do this!
  • We can initiate political decisions on the initiative and referendum laws ourselves and thus influence the political events in the country at every level. This is what citizens of EU countries dream of.
  • We vote on major financial expenditures (Gotthard Base Tunnel), changes in the law (pension reform) or changes in taxation. Many citizens in the EU would also like to be able to do that.
  • Our politicians are much closer to their constituents. If they want to make a career, they must appear credible and honest to the citizens in order to succeed in the elections.

Of course, we know that our legal framework contains many small imperfections, too. But the comparison between the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport alone speaks volumes in terms of democratic popular partizipation, the level of cost overruns, the non-compliance with time schedules, the quality of the work done and the satisfaction of the population. Our decision-making processes are often longer, but the consensus is broader, and therefore everybody is better satisfied.

The independent existence of officials

Unfortunately, we cannot but note with regret that parts of our administration sometimes start to lead an uncontrolled life of their own under their chief officials, and that they start initiating things that were not always agreed on and that are even against the wishes of the epopulation (such as Bologna or PfP). We strive to bring those officials back to their original tasks.

Some want a bigger slice of the EU cake

In our country, as in every other country, too, there are also groups of people who want to put their own economic advantage above the rights and independence of their fellow citizens. Some of them argue that in favour of preserving jobs and wealth in our country, they are “necessity-driven” to renounce some of their rights (and of course some of the rights of their fellow citizens as well) to the benefit of the EU, because it is our largest trading partner. (Although, on closer inspection, their course of action is not quite so unselfish.) Some of them earn their money as global players or working for global players. They suggest we give up rights so that the piece of the EU cake stays big enough. In exchange for a waiver we would then be allowed to continue yodelling or shopping cheaply in the EU countries … – only concerning the big picture, we should be “insightful” and leave the final decisions to the “experts” in Strasbourg …

Where is the broad and controversial discussion?

A broad and controversial debate is missing. Today, instead of 200 newspapers (1980), we have only a handful of major publishers and some europhile TV and radio stations – and these facilities are now expected to provide a discussion platform for opinion forming. But in the meanwhile, more and more citizens have got the impression that they are being fobbed off with PR, spin doctoring, opinions patched together, or half-truths.

EU accession or “cold” affiliation to the EU?

Both sides – the EU in Brussels and the “cherry pickers” on the Swiss side – have been planning a Swiss accession to the EU for over two decades, whether as an EU member or in the form of a quiet “cold” affiliation. The citizens are meanwhile to be mentally prepared for the “change”. Power and money are the driving forces. There are many who want limitless and unrestricted trade and limitless and unrestrained top down government without the “pesky” participation of those affected. Instead, a bit of folklore and “Swissness” may be allowed for everyone …

Direct democracy as an export hit, instead of Brussels absolutism

This is the wrong direction. The Federal Council’s statements sound hollow, the media repeat things parrot-fashion or spool the film forward. Would not our neighbours in Germany and France give their right arm to at last, at least once, have a say in politics, which however decides mercilessly over their heads. The Austrians would also like to have a say in a few questions that directly affect their lives. Now they have just been ripped off: Instead of “direct democracy based on the Swiss model”, there is now monarchical governance under the aegis of a green president. In Greece, the quiet social catastrophe of the EU austerity measures to rescue the banks might long ago have been ended and money could have been paid again for doctors, hospitals and pensions.
Direct democracy is an export hit; despotism Brussels style is an outdated model from the era of enlightened absolutism. Almost everyone in the country knows this now. But does the Federal Council know yet?     •

1     Article 6 of the Treaty of Lisbon makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU legally binding. Article 2 of this EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states (2): “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.”  However, the explanations are also applicable. The so-called Explanatory Notes to Article 2 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights state in Article 2(2): “Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary … (c) “… in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.” The second exception when the death penalty may be imposed is for “acts committed in time of war or of imminent threat of war”.

(Translation Current Concerns)

Various voting posters. At the communal, cantonal and federal level, Swiss citizens have the opportunity to directly influence politics through voting. Individuals, groups, parties or other organisations campaign/engage in the different votes.