International / Let's talk about Europe

When Switzerland shoots itself in the foot

Placard supporting the UDC initiative limiting the immigration during the electoral debate in Switzerland

Placard supporting the UDC initiative limiting the immigration during the electoral debate in Switzerland

Some days ago, Swiss people voted to limit immigration by a narrow majority, following a UDC (Union démocratique du centre, Democratic Union of the Centre) party proposition mainly targeting European Union’s people applying to work and/or settle within the Helvetic Confederation.

Just after the outcome, the European Union and most of the Member States warned: EU values and principles are not negotiable and Switzerland cannot pick it wants up that is to say enjoying the single market and closing its borders to EU citizens both. It is now the duty of the Swiss federal government to find a satisfying solution, taking into account the will of the voters.

The debate took place in a quite special ambiance. While the Swiss economy is flourishing and the country gets one of the weakest unemployment rates in Europe, immigration seems to become the main issue within a land that largely enjoy the single market despites (or thanks to) its special status. Indeed, the Swiss Confederation ratified some bilateral agreements with the EU to enjoy the single market and be outside the EU with some counterparts both. For instance, accessing the internal market, it engaged to open its market, in a win-win spirit. In fact, Switzerland largely enjoy the borders’ abolition and free movement of its goods to get competitive and more available products and to boost its economy.

Demonstrators protesting against the UDC initiative

Demonstrators protesting against the UDC initiative

But approving the anti-EU and conservative populist UDC initiative by a very weak majority, Swiss people shot themselves in the foot insofar as they embarrassed the federal government who is not a strong position to negotiate with Brussels. Indeed and so far the step-by-step method seemed to be convenient for Switzerland and the European Union because it was enjoyable for everyone. But, giving in the UDC simple and populist speech, Switzerland might lose a lot finally. As the French Liberation newspaper correspondent Jean Quatremer explained on his blog, Switzerland is bound by a special condition that mentions if the country questions one of the deals made with the EU, the other agreements lapsed. Switzerland makes 60% of its trade with the EU and Brussels does not wish to spare Bern apparently, all the more so as the UDC initiative was warmly welcomed by the European far-right leaders, from Marine Le Pen’s French Front national to Nigel Farage’s UKIP who hopes the recent Swiss vote inspires the British people who have to have their say about the UK membership in the EU by 2017

103348651-swiss-immigration-referendumIt’s probably for this reason the main European leaders wished to clarify the situation with the Swiss government (that it is said it did not support the UDC populist initiative) quickly. Maybe one of the limits of the Swiss democratic and electoral system has been reached insofar as any passionate and framed debate may give very serious consequences for a country economically speaking. And for information, Brussels already announced it suspended EU/Switzerland agreement about ERASMUS + and research programs, and it’s just the beginning!

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