David Cameron, Swiss Cheese and the EU Referendum Bill

Last week’s visit to Brussels gave me the opportunity to explore non-British attitudes to the EU Referendum Bill that is currently being debated by Parliament.

It takes a brave man to mention this Bill in the hallowed corridors of the European Commission. Responses ranged from a polite roll of the eyes and a resigned shrug of the shoulders to more vocal outbursts complaining that this Bill picks up from were John Major left off in 1997.

David Cameron and a Churchillian Approach to Europe

The over-riding feeling from Brussels is that this Bill, if passed in its present format, risks creating a multi-speed Europe with Britain very much stuck on the hard shoulder.

Warn down by such doom and gloom scenarios I shared a bottle of claret with a Swiss friend who expounded the virtues of a more aloof relationship with the EU.

When pressed on whether Switzerland might ever contemplate EU membership, I was told that while 20% of the population would vote in favour of membership the majority of Swiss wanted to hang on to their money and rights.

During the course of the evening I learnt that Switzerland’s relations with the EU are framed by a series of bilateral treaties. Put simply Switzerland adopts many EU laws in order to participate in the EU’s single market, but it has opted out of the wider process of European integration on the grounds that joining the EU would infringe upon its tradition of direct democracy.

The EU and its Member States

Money and rights have been all too familiar themes in Britain’s sclerotic public discourse on Europe since the early 1980s. What I didn’t realise, however, is that there are many who see Switzerland’s relationship with the EU as a model for a renegotiated relationship between Brussels and London.

Direct Democracy - Swiss style

The problem, however, is that the Swiss government is beginning to realise that its bilateral policy has reached its limits and that it might now be wise to make concessions to Brussels.

Whether the government in Bern will be able to persuade the electorate to part with their cash and their rights remains to be seen.

Would you like Britain to adopt a Swiss model of engagement with the EU? Or, do you think that this model of engagement has more holes in it than a packet of Swiss Emmental? Let me know what you think.

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4 Responses to David Cameron, Swiss Cheese and the EU Referendum Bill

  1. Claudine Haenni Dale says:

    As a Swiss, I can only concur with your Swiss friend in Brussels. There is no way the Swiss electorate would be willing to concede the right to referenda or initiatives to a capital as far away as Brussels. No government will be able to make more concessions without a serious backlash. There are enough here who think that the bi-lateral treaties have made too many concessions already. Voting and decision-making at a communal level is apple-pie and Mom in this country.

  2. Thanks Claudine – What are the limits of the bilateral approach? Is Switzerland at risk – as say with Schengen regulations – of introducing new laws through the back door without consulting the Swiss voters?

  3. c2drl says:

    Perhaps the basis for answering the question is with anlother question. What things are important for your country. If it is money and power at any cost then the EU membership seems fine. If, however there are other, softer, things inter alia integrity, subsidiarity, democracy and identity, are important then the Swiss model is far superior.

    The EU has yet to convince me that it has any principles except wealth, especially for the ruling classes.

    Staying outside the Euro hasn’t been such a bad deal, would being outside the EU core be any worse? Think what we gave up when we joined – a really good symbiotic relationship with diverse Commonwealth countries that copuld have generated an alternative viable common market, if it already wasn’t. We can’t go back but if there is a group on the outer ring then there are possibilities of building something good.

    Is it ever right to be a member of something that isn’t right for you and in which you don’t fit, just because you can’t think of an alternative?

    • Thanks for this – I understand your logic regarding the Euro, but I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the preceding analysis. Solidarity, and responsibility as well as peace and reconciliation have been driving forces behind the construction of Europe. I agree that it needs to recapture a vision for the future, but I am not sure that I would go so far as to say that its a rich man’s club. That’s a bit harsh. That said, I would very much like the question to be put – do we want to be in or out – and then to move on whatever the outcome.

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