Aftermath of EU-Switzerland Conflict Shows Britain Right to Go Alone | Brexit

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After seven years of intense negotiations between Switzerland and the European Union to develop a new trade agreement, the Swiss have left, leaving an uncertain future between the two neighbors. Has this episode demonstrated the limitations of the EU’s approach to negotiations?

Switzerland and the EU are closely integrated, with Switzerland being the EU’s fourth largest trading partner. With over 120 bilateral agreements covering issues from trade to freedom of movement, an outsider can be forgiven for thinking that Switzerland is part of the EU. With the EU just finalizing a high-profile – and at times bumpy – trade agreement between the UK and the EU following Brexit this year, there were high hopes that negotiations with Switzerland would go smoother. Switzerland’s sudden rejection ruined this assumption.

The EU, weakened by the UK’s withdrawal, continues to harbor ambitions for further enlargement. Switzerland, with its close geography, liberal philosophy and wealth, seems like an obvious candidate to join the club. Yet despite decades of political pressure from the EU to strengthen European unity, it failed to fully convince the Swiss, who instead sought to achieve the best of both worlds – a close economic partnership while remaining strictly politically independent.

The Swiss have always been on the sidelines when it comes to the EU. Switzerland’s closest accession ever was the 1992 referendum on accession to the European Economic Area (EEA), one step away from full EU membership. This was rejected by the Swiss, and attempts to join the EU were soon abandoned.

Since then, the attractiveness of joining has only diminished. Recently, EU institutions have come under attack due to the slow deployment of the vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of solidarity on critical issues such as migration policy with the wicked EU members Hungary and Poland, which openly challenge EU principles, causing frequent controversy. between the 27 member countries during the meetings of their councils. In turn, exhausted EU officials have become more defensive and inflexible, desperate to demonstrate their strength with tough trade demands in both the UK and Switzerland.

The EU’s behavior has fueled the UK’s Eurosceptic demands for an economically freer Brexit. Likewise, the EU has failed to convince the Swiss that increased supervision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), along with the empowerment of EU citizens in Switzerland, was a fair price to pay for greater market access. The Swiss government, which practiced direct democracy with nationwide referendums to make important decisions, knew that any public vote would convincingly reject these proposals.

The humiliation inflicted by the EU in 2014, when the Swiss voted narrowly to end freedom of movement by demanding migration quotas, is still fresh in Swiss memory. Switzerland agreed to freedom of movement with the EU in 2002 and even abolished passport controls when it joined the Schengen area in 2009. However, when the Swiss government tried to negotiate with the EU to implement the 2014 referendum decision, it was quickly rejected. The European Union has threatened to cut access to and funding for various educational and scientific programs.

The move forced the Swiss instead to propose only minor changes in favor of Swiss residents in Switzerland compared to foreign workers for unemployment benefits and for new migrants who had to demonstrate that they were integrated into Swiss society, which is far from the spirit of the referendum decision. … … The ever pragmatic Swiss people agreed to recognize freedom of movement in 2020 in another public referendum. However, the lingering feeling that the EU seemed to be doing its best meant that a line had been drawn in future Swiss cooperation.

In recent trade negotiations, the EU hoped to agree on a comprehensive partnership framework with Switzerland that would bring Switzerland in line with other countries in close economic orbit with the EU.

The failure of these negotiations means maintaining the status quo – a bureaucratic nightmare even for the notoriously complex EU Commission, as the patchwork of bilateral agreements struggles to deal with the ever-changing laws of Switzerland and the EU.

This presents the EU with a strategic dilemma. His take-or-leave mentality pushes partners away from engaging with him and undermines the EU as a political force when smaller countries decide to leave.

The EU’s defensive mentality stems from its “always closed alliance” policy. Brussels politicians have always dreamed of increasingly centralized political control over the domestic and foreign policies of member states, including defense and taxation. Britain foresaw this and has resisted it, and its withdrawal will only accelerate this agenda. This obsession with uniformity seeps into the way the EU approaches trade relations with external countries.

The EU will view Switzerland as just an inevitable obstacle given its economic dependence on the European bloc. Without agreement, their respective laws will diverge, and trade barriers are already being formed.

For example, Swiss medical technology companies, which account for three percent of Switzerland’s gross domestic product (GDP), now face tariffs due to this discrepancy. Thus, the EU is likely to act by behaving like an over-controlling larger neighbor, but that would be a mistake.

Instead, the EU must take some time for a period of introspection, during which it must ask itself whether it is, and not the British or Swiss, the one making unfounded claims. Maybe then he will have new friends again. Until then, it makes sense for the UK and Switzerland to stay away from EU institutions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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