Switzerland : the European state that refuses to join the European Union

On 17th April, Camilla Barbezat and Søren Henrichsen visited the EU Delegation in Berne. It is one of the Union’s smallest delegations in a non-Member State. Amidst seemingly increasing tension between Switzerland and the EU, the two made the most of their visit to ask some questions about the future of this bilateral relationship.

Ulrich Trautmann, principal counsellor of the delegation, firstly emphasised to us that the Switzerland-Europe relationship dates back to the beginning of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community). The Union and the Confederation therefore have a long and very amicable history, that has been strengthened by over 150 bilateral agreements. Trautmann laid his cards directly on the table by describing the “model of these agreements” as a “historical accident”. According to him, all of these agreements were intended to lead to a Swiss entry into the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992. We can understand, therefore, that the model of agreements used with the Swiss will in no case be used by the EU in dealings with other non-Member States. In reality, Switzerland is a semi-Member State : the country is integrated into certain aspects of the EU, from which it gains certain advantages without having to make too many concessions. Moreover, the nation is skilful in taking advantage of the differences between their legislation and that of the 27 nations that make up the Union ; the taxation of both precious stones and businesses being but two from a range of examples.

The freedom of movement within Schengen countries and Rubik fiscal agreements are two notable areas of contention. [1] The Commission is not best pleased that Member States such as Germany and Great Britain have signed fiscal agreements with Switzerland, but Trautmann stressed the fact that Member States are free to sign any agreement they wish, provided it does not affect the EU’s areas of competence. The Rubik agreements mark the second wave of concession granted by Switzerland to her neighbours, but according to the Swiss authorities it also marks the last. It’s a completely different story for the other European nations, who see these agreements as an additional step towards automatic information exchange. It is also no accident that there is no sign of recitals (the ‘recitals’ are the part of an act which contains the statement of reasons for the act) in the tax agreements between Switzerland and her EU partners. Therefore each country’s objectives are diametrically opposed : in short, the EU is still hoping to secure an end to Swiss banking secrecy, while the Swiss Confederation hopes to delay its demise for as long as possible - it would be illusory to consider that it will last forever. The community exceptions of Luxembourg and Austria are, themselves, nothing more than transitional dispensations.

Yet why would you sign a bilateral agreement with a country that causes so much irritation ? Why not make their life so unbearable that they are pushed towards membership, and hence towards accepting the rules of the common game ? Ulrich Trautmann responded by saying that “the Delegation’s aim is not to interfere in countries’ internal issues. We do not comment on their business, nor do we advertise it in any way”. It becomes apparent that this is a sensitive issue, and that Swiss membership of the Union would facilitate Swiss-European relations. On 18th April, just one day after the visit of Camilla and Søren, the Federal Council decided that the safeguarding clause envisaged in the Schengen agreements should be activated with regards to the EU-8 countries. [2] From 1st May 2012, quotas will be reintroduced in the issuing of category B residence permits to nationals from these countries. This announcement evidently irritated the European Commission, as well as the 8 countries concerned, adding to the existing tensions. It is certain that the nomination of Richard Jones (a man who does not speak any of Switzerland’s 4 official languages) as the head of the European Delegation in the country, is nothing more than a logical consequence of this ever tense Swiss-European relationship.

This article is a translation of La Suisse, cet État européen qui se refuse à l’Union by Camilla Barbezat and Søren Henrichsen, from the Eurosblog Y’a pas le feu à l’Europe, translated from the French by Clare Saunders.

[1] For more information, see the article : Signature de « Rubik » : Londres et Berne fâchent l’Union européenne (Signing the Rubik : London and Berne anger the EU) from 5th April 2012. http://eurosuisse.eurosblog.eu/spip...

[2] The EU-8 : Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia.

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Camilla Barbezat

Titulaire d’un Bachelor en Relations Internationales à l’Université de Genève, conclut par un projet de recherche sur le droit d’ingérence humanitaire, Camilla Barbezat poursuit un Master en études européennes à l’Institut européen de l’Université de (...)

Site internet : Y’a pas le feu à l’Europe

Clare Saunders

Clare Saunders will not be content until she has mastered as many languages as she can. A French, Spanish and Italian student at Durham University, she also undertook German night classes in a bid to nearer her goal of mastering European (...)

Søren Henrichsen

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