'Pro Schweiz': What is Switzerland's new anti-EU organisation and what is its aim?
Three Swiss associations opposed to the European Union merged on Saturday in Bern to form a new organisaton to defend the country’s neutrality.
The new group, Pro Schweiz / Pro Suisse / Pro Svizzera, succeeds the Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (ASIN), the employers' association against joining the European Union, and the "No to creeping EU membership" committee.
Like its three predecessors, the new association will continue to oppose Switzerland’s ties with the EU — such as current and future bilateral treaties — as well as any active involvement in international affairs, including the country’s participation in the UN Security Council.
The new group is the brainchild of Christoph Blocher, a controversial former member of the Federal Council and a major force in the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).
In fact, Pro Schweiz, like its predecessors, is composed mostly of SVP politicians and sympathisers.
At Pro Schweiz’s launch, Blocher also spoke of his initiative on neutrality, which is currently being examined by the Federal Chancellery to see whether it meets all the conditions necessary to be brought to the national vote. The initiative seeks to prohibit Switzerland from adopting sanctions against states at war, apart from those decided by the United Nations.
The current sanctions Switzerland has in place, against Russia, were decided by the European Union.
The initiative also wants to ban Switzerland from joining a military alliances like NATO.
READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Switzerland in NATO?
“Neutrality protected Switzerland for 200 years”, Blocher said at the Bern meeting. “Thanks to it, our country has been spared from wars. It is not possible for the Federal Council and a few politicians to break a principle that has been so successful”.
Pierre-André Page, another SVP force, added that “our collaborations with the European Union will evolve anyway. But you have to be able to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, and no longer find yourself faced with large packages of agreements as has been the case until now”.
Page was referring to 120 bilateral treaties and arrangements that Switzerland had negotiated with Brussels over the past 20 years. Among them are agreements on free movement of people, trade, exchange of information, agriculture, research, environment, police cooperation and asylum coordination, civil aviation, road transport, tourism, education, and pensions.
Why isn’t Switzerland in the EU anyway?
A phrase “Swiss paradox” has been used to describe the country’s steadfast refusal to join the Union. That’s because Switzerland’s economy relies heavily on exports and its main trading partner is the EU.
Another paradox is that about one-quarter of Switzerland’s population are foreigners — most of them from the EU.
Switzerland has always justified its refusal to join the EU by its neutrality, even though Finland, which is also neutral, became a member in the mid-1990s.
But there may be another reason as well.
“Switzerland is too rich and too stable to want to join the EU,” according to Fabio Wasserfallen, a professor of European politics at the University of Bern.
Depending on who you ask, there could be other grounds as well, ranging from Switzerland’s attachment to its tradition of sovereignty, to its famous system of direct democracy, both of which could, critics like the SVP claim, be lessened by adherence to the European Union.
In fact, it was through direct democracy that the Swiss chose to stay out of the alliance: a narrow majority of 50.3 percent of voters turned down the move in a 1992 referendum.
The probability doesn’t seem any more likely 20 years later.
According to Daniel Warner, former deputy to the director of The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, “there is only a limited desire for membership, mainly due to very strong anti-EU sentiments in the central part of Switzerland", where, not coincidentally, most SVP supporters live.
So in terms of Switzerland joining the EU, “I don’t see it happening”, he added.
This, no doubt, should come as a relief to the members of Pro Schweiz.