The Swiss will pay dearly for voting out fellow Europeans

European Parliament. EU - Switzerland Interparliamentary meeting in Brussels. (EP Audiovisual Services, 23/04/2013).

European Parliament. EU – Switzerland Interparliamentary meeting in Brussels. (EP Audiovisual Services, 23/04/2013).

Xenophobics, racists and far right political extremists all over Europe have celebrated a razor-thin win of 50.3% in a Swiss referendum last Sunday, favoring an initiative “against mass immigration”. The vote was introduced by the country’s far right-wing Swiss People’s Party and was meant to block the free entry of EU citizens in the country, despite the 2004 EU-Swiss agreement on the free movement of persons.

However, the joy of some mulish headed Europeans is not shared by 1,444,428 Swiss who voted no (49.7%), starting from the business and financial community and the center and left-wing parties and reaching to the French-speaking cantons. Speaking about numbers of people directly affected by this outcome, over a million EU citizens live in Switzerland and another 230,000 cross the border daily for work. About 430,000 Swiss live in the EU.

Brussels roars

Reactions from Brussels are very strong and go as far as questioning all the almost one hundred bilateral agreements between the two sides. This pack has made Switzerland an integral part of EU’s internal market of goods, services, capital and labour. After the rejection of full EU membership in 1992 by the Swiss people, Switzerland and the EU agreed on a package of seven sectoral agreements signed in 1999. They covered the free movement of persons, technical trade barriers, public procurement, agriculture and air and land transport (road and rail). A special scientific research agreement fully associated Switzerland into the EU’s framework research programmes. A new set of agreements was signed in 2004 covering Switzerland’s participation in Schengen and Dublin, taxation of savings, processed agricultural products, statistics, combating fraud, participation in the EU Media Program and the Environment Agency.

Yesterday though, the Commission and the European Parliament have put all that on hold. A Press release issued by the EU’s executive arm says that “Free movement of persons is a central pillar of our relations with Switzerland, and part of our overall package of ties”. Obviously the meaning of this statement is that a renegotiation of the agreement covering the free movement of persons will entail a renegotiation of all the agreements.

Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, explained that in detail. He said, “It is difficult to limit the free movement of citizens and not limit the free movement of services, for example. We have many negotiations ahead.” The EU dignitary had more to say. “It is up to the Swiss government to decide if they suspend the agreements with us or not,” and he added, “As long as Switzerland does not react, the agreements exist.”

EU threatens with total eclipse

Yesterday many government officials all over the EU observed that in the entire package of the bilateral agreements with Switzerland there is a “guillotine clause“. It provides that if Switzerland is no longer able to fulfill the conditions of the agreement on the free movement of people, all the other agreements signed in 1999 are at risk, under a clause which is built-in into all the agreements. If the 1999 agreements fall, the new 2004 package will fall too, because it is based on the former.

The European Commission takes a step further, questioning all its agreements with the EFTA countries which are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The Commission reminds everybody that in the European Council Conclusions on relations with the EFTA countries of December 2012, Member States reiterated the position already taken in 2008 and 2010 that, “the present system of bilateral agreements had clearly reached its limits and needs to be reconsidered”.

Given that, the Commission concludes that “horizontal issues related to the dynamic adaptation of all agreements to the evolving ‘acquis’ (the corpus of the EU legislation), the homogenous interpretation of the agreements, but equally the need for independent surveillance, judicial enforcement and dispute settlement, all that need to be reflected in EU-Switzerland agreements”. The Commission singles out Switzerland from the other EFTA countries because of the magnitude of the deals and of course because of last Sunday’s referendum.

Swiss food for thought

On the political level the EU’s anti-immigration parties and groups which celebrated the Swiss vote on Monday may be obliged to rethink their stance today. The reason is that the Swiss decision may affect commuting workers from the EU countries bordering Switzerland that is Germany, France, Italy and Austria. In short, if the Swiss case is analyzed reasonably, it leads directly to national conflicts because action brings reaction.

Despite all that, all the anti-immigration right wingers of Europe, took the Swiss ticket and flew high. Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Holland and Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria rushed to propose the Swiss way for their country. Obviously they don’t stop on that. Most of them want the EU to dissolve and the European nations to start fighting each-other again.

The problem is that their voters don’t see it like that, and stop the analysis on chasing out the immigrants. However, the Swiss case will also give the opportunity to many Europeans to think twice before they vote for Eurosceptic and extremist parties in the May election. Switzerland voted to throw out fellow Europeans and this fact may move some consciences.

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