Sunday, 8 February 2009

Swiss referendum could make or break relations with Brussels

SWITZERLAND VOTES today in a closely fought referendum on whether its current bilateral relations with the European Union have a future. What began life as a vote on extending free movement of labour agreements to the newest EU member states, Bulgaria and Romania, has been linked by parliament into an all-or-nothing vote on relations with the entire bloc.

Final polls show a slim majority in favour of the two motions, although the final result has gone down to the wire in the face of growing economic uncertainty and strong populist opposition. As preveously reported here Switzerlands economy benefits from being outside of EU

Unlike the aftermath of Ireland’s No to the Lisbon Treaty, EU officials say a Swiss No today would automatically terminate half a dozen other linked bilateral treaties agreed between Brussels and Berne in the last decade, covering everything from lowering trade barriers to managing alpine traffic.

Traditionally opposed to full EU membership, Swiss voters agreed in 2000 to a collection of bilateral agreements with Brussels. A seven-year deal allowing EU and Swiss citizens mutual residency and working rights was up for renewal by referendum this year. After a lengthy and heated debate, parliament took the controversial decision to link that vote to another pending vote, on whether to extend current bilateral arrangements with the EU to Bulgaria and Romania. Pro EU politications fearing of a back lash have called the move an abuse of Switzerland’s famous system of direct democracy, where citizens vote in regular referenda to decide public policy. All main political parties bar one have campaigned for a Yes vote. But convincing voters to open their country’s borders to two of Europe’s poorest countries hasn’t been easy, particularly in these uncertain economic times.

The main opponent of the referendum, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), says that letting Romanians and Bulgarians into Switzerland will drive down wages and increase unemployment among Swiss workers. The party, led by industrialist Christoph Blocher, is notorious across Europe for previous referenda poster campaigns. This time around, posters show black ravens tearing strips from the flag this will no doubt have a effect on voters like previous posters have.

The effectiveness of the party’s poster campaigns is disputed: they have not yet swung a referendum in the SVP’s favour, but political analysts say it boosts the partys support. Leading EU officials have made is plain clear that snubbing its two newest member states is not the best basis for the start of a new relationship. If the referendum passes, officials on both sides are expected to upgrade current ad-hoc relations to a more formalised framework that will grow with new legislation and regulations.

The proposed new framework could cover everything from agricultural free trade to the conditions under which Swiss troops would automatically participate in EU-led peacekeeping missions. Brussels has made it clear the Swiss can not pick and choose EU policies - rejecting free movement could threaten those crucial free trade ties.Switzerland may not be in the EU, but it needs a good relationship with Brussels as one in every two Swiss francs is earned through trade with the EU, and one in every three Swiss jobs depends on that trade.

This once again shows the EU is willing to bully people in voting into the way they want threatening them with consequences if they vote NO, and if they Swiss do vote NO whats the bet of them having to vote again ? Is this really an organization the people of Switzerland want to join....


ukipwebmaster said...

Cake? What Cake?

wonkotsane said...

Did someone mention cake?