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.
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.
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.
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.