OPINION: Switzerland is now in a stronger position to negotiate with EU

After Swiss voters clearly rejected the initiative to end freedom of movement from the EU, Switzerland is in a stronger position to negotiate the framework agreement with Brussels and must flex its muscles, argues Vincent Bourquin from Le Temps.

OPINION: Switzerland is now in a stronger position to negotiate with EU
Swiss voters showed that the far-right SVP remains isolated on the topic of immigration in September's referendums. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
The Swiss were impatient.
Deprived of the vote in spring due to Covid, they took their revenge, with 59% turning to cast a ballot.
These voters nearly created a big surprise by almost refusing to back the purchase of new fighter jets, which proves that the left was particularly mobilised at the weekend.
This influx to the polls also ended in a vote to continue free movement of people from the EU.
The Swiss have once again confirmed that the bilateral route (Switzerland’s economic and trade relations with the EU are mainly governed through a series of bilateral agreements, after it rejected joining the European Economic Area in 1992) the is the right strategy. 
It had caused a political earthquake that was probably beneficial.
Since then, concrete measures have been taken, such as announcing vacancies (prioritising Swiss nationals for job vacancies) or creating a bridging pension. Not to mention that immigration has also declined sharply over the past seven years.
An exemplary campaign
This campaign against the initiative to end freedom of movement was exemplary.
First of all, there was this strong and unfortunately too rare alliance between employers and unions.
Academics and scientists came out of their ivory tower this time around and mobilised strongly, aware of the importance of Europe in the area of research.
This significant success at the polls also represented a victory for one woman in particular: Justice and Police Minister Karin Keller-Sutter (FDP).
The Federal Councilor committed herself, over and above, to this vote with a clear and positive message: thanks to free movement, Switzerland is doing well.
A winning strategy of putting the head of the Justice and Police Department on the front line, to the detriment of (Foreign Affairs Minister and SVP politician) Ignazio Cassis and (Economics Minister and SVP politician) Guy Parmelin, whose messages are often too confused.
With this victory, Keller-Sutter takes on a new dimension within the government. She therefore has every legitimacy to weigh even more on the European dossier, which is far from over.
The next step is going to be more complicated.
The EU wants to quickly conclude a new framework agreement with Bern.
However, several very sensitive issues are still open: accompanying measures, the directive on the rights of European citizens and state aid.
The negotiations promise to be tough.
But Switzerland’s position is strengthened after the very clear rejection of the “EU Limitation Initiative”.
The Federal Council, largely supported by the people, must make Brussels understand that it will not sign this agreement under any conditions.
This editorial, which was originally published in Swiss daily Le Temps on Monday, September 28th, was republished by The Local Switzerland with permission. Clarifications have been added in italics. 

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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.