Scrutinise your contract partners at first!

Or: What does “Erasmus” have to do with the mass immigration initiative?

by Dr iur Marianne Wüthrich

In this country there have always been student exchanges, because Switzerland has always been and still is a cosmopolitan country. In previous centuries, many Swiss did all their studies in one of the neighbouring countries and even completed their university degree there. In Switzerland, students who come from French-speaking Switzerland or Ticino, spend one or two semesters at a German Swiss university and vice versa. Today there is no difference: The student exchange takes place as ever. The only difference is that now the EU bureaucracy has taken up the matter and got a tremendous organisation going; with billions of euros that flow from one country to another and flow back – after leaving a considerable amount in the cash register of the headquarters in Brussels. Under the ambitious name “Erasmus” a programme that actually contains nothing else than promoting the exchange of students between countries, with the ulterior motive, “in line with the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty to ‘encourage the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe’”.1 Or in other words: to uproot the young people of their home countries and make them particles of a unitary centralised state. “Erasmus” is short for “European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students”, i.e. a mobility grants programme. The reference to the great humanist is well-intended, if rather presumptuous.

What has “Erasmus” to do with Switzerland, you might ask; Switzerland is not at all a member of the EU. You are right – but you do not know our federal administration! Of course, Switzerland had to join “Erasmus”. In specific terms, this means that Switzerland has so far spent many millions to ensure that our students could study for one semester at a foreign university with a scholarship, and at the same time (considerably more) students from EU countries could study in Switzerland. Until the abrupt end.

Contracting parties as equals?

On 26 February 2014, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI announced that the European Commission had excluded Switzerland from participation in Erasmus+. In 2014 (that same year), Switzerland had lost its status as “programme country”, but could only participate “with third-country status”.2 A rather rude action against a state which so far has always paid its bill on time. Legally qualified people refer to this as “termination without notice” and this is only permissible for a more serious offense of the contractor. What serious legal breach is Switzerland guilty of as “Erasmus” partner? Justifying its decision, the EU Commission specifies according SBFI: “Negotiations with the EU with regard to association have been suspended following adoption of the initiative against mass immigration; the EU cites the principle of the free movement of persons as a key element of the bilateral agreements.” This means that the EU Commission responded extremely fast to the Swiss referendum on 9 February 2014 and announced Switzerland its imaginary new rules of the game only two weeks later: The free movement of persons is explained as an essential prerequisite so that Switzerland may continue to participate in “Erasmus”. Hence the government is required to first sign the free movement agreement with Croatia, which has nothing to do with the “Erasmus” programme. This is a strange behaviour between contracting parties against the sovereign state of Switzerland, isn’t it? What the old Trotskyist Cohn-Bendit let lose by the end of February, – “The Swiss will be on their knees and come back to us and realize that they do need Europe”3 – is so stupid that we do not need to pay attention to it. Just a side note here: If that is what the EU-rulers require of a sovereign contracting party, we prefer to drop the whole thing.
We understand a bilateral agreement between equal partners to be negotiated by both parties as equal partners, that is before the treaty comes into effect. In addition, on 9 February 2014, Switzerland has in no way violated the bilateral agreement on the free movement of persons. The Swiss people have only decided to try to settle this issue anew in the future. As everyone knows Switzerland is a very reliable contractor and keeps, of course, the contractual termination clauses, if it wants to terminate an agreement.

Annual Review 2014: Switzerland will be better off without “Erasmus”

Ten months have gone by since the adoption of the initiative against mass immigration and the resulting consequence of Switzerland being eliminated from “Erasmus”. Some interesting facts have emerged during this time.
First, the Federal Council has discovered that it can as well pay the money, which it previously had to pay into the “Erasmus” coffer in Brussels, directly to the Swiss students. For the students willing to exchange no disadvantages were entailed;4 it is even an advantage for our Federal Treasury, because the scholarships cost less of course without going via Brussels.
Incidentally, the foreign students who wish to study for one semester at a Swiss university, do not go empty-handed, because they receive grants from the federal government – despite its being sacked from “Erasmus”. Switzerland, as always, is also generous here: While 2,970 Swiss students participated in the “Erasmus” programme in the years 2012 and 2013, 3,897 foreign students studied in Switzerland, which is about 1,000 students more.5
In addition, in early March 2014 it turned out that the Federal Council did not seem unhappy about the breakdown of the Swiss participation in the new “Erasmus” stage 2014–2020, since after the National Council and the Council of States had already approved the agreed 185 million CHF, the EU suddenly demanded more than twice as much.6 Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann will therefore be very happy to allocate federal funds in the context of an independent solution.

Personal contact rather than computer programme

After a year without “Erasmus”, we note: We really do not need a monster agreement from Brussels, so that our students can do a semester abroad and foreign students are able to study in Switzerland vice versa. According to the daily press at the end of the year the Swiss universities negotiated bilateral agreements with individual universities abroad last year. Under the new Swiss name “Swiss-European Mobility” Programme over 200 individual agreements have been settled with other universities, which required an enormous “communication effort”.7
Perhaps in times of unencumbered and unlimited communication in the virtual network it causes no harm to humanity, if we rely on the direct relationship uptake by phone from time to time and if government officials and the students involved have to deal personally with Mr A. or Mrs B., rather than clicking on a number in a bureaucratic grid and being a number themselves.
And as for the effort of Brussels, to achieve more “mobility” among European students, it is already common knowledge: Neither “Erasmus” nor “Bologna” are mobility-compatible, even though they were supposedly invented for this purpose. Because the credit transfer at the host university is still very uncertain.8 But as I said: The main objective of the exercise is a very different one: to train many academics to lead the United States of Europe someday.    •

1    European Commission, Erasmus + Guidelines, ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/discover/guide/index_en.htm, p. 9
2    SERI, Adoption of the initiative against mass immigration and its impact for Switzerland, www.sbfi.admin.ch, Erasmus+ of 19.9.2014
3    www.swissinfo.ch of 27 February 2014
4    www.swissinfo.ch of 27 February 2014
5    www.moneycab.com/mcc/2014/03/07
6    “Was über Erasmus verschwiegen wird”, Basler Zeitung of 6 March 2014
7    “Austausch auch ohne Erasmus”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 29 December 2014
8    “Partysemester für Elitekinder”, Weltwoche 10/2014 of 5 March 2014