Switzerland - Wilhelm Tell, part two

Wilhelm Tell, part two

Container ships on the Rhine, just before Basel

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

In October 2018, the Swiss citizens prepared the reactionary professional Swissism of the SVP a crushing defeat: They rejected the initiative "Swiss law instead of foreign judges", with which the country would have given the national constitution priority over international law - in the narrow-minded-chauvinistic Spirit of "Swissness first". The outcome of another referendum recently was the same when the Swiss People's Party wanted to undermine the EU's free movement of persons: the initiative did not receive a majority. Six months later and three years after the unspeakable "self-determination initiative", it was now, last week, the Bernese government that, after long delaying tactics, canceled negotiations on a "framework agreement" with the European Union. It should regulate relations with Brussels, for which there are currently more than 120 bilateral agreements, in a new and uniform manner.

In Switzerland, people had long hoped to get almost free access to the lucrative EU internal market and to continue cherry-picking in the shadow of the Brexit negotiations. The sovereign behavior of Michel Barnier and his team towards the chaos troop from London put an end to such hopes. Switzerland's unilateral break in negotiations - despite the existence of a draft contract that was ready to be signed - remained really convincing reasons; Switzerland benefits from the open EU internal market, into which almost two thirds of its exports flow, much more than the EU countries, conversely, from imports from Switzerland.

Skeptical unions

The crux of the matter was the EU's intention to set up a court of arbitration with the framework agreement to decide on controversial interpretations of contracts or breaches of contract such as those of the EU rules on the free movement of persons by Switzerland. On the other hand, the Swiss right mobilized the legendary oath of the national heroes on the Rütliwiese on Lake Lucerne, according to which "no foreign judges" will be tolerated in their own country, whereupon the strongest of the heroes - Wilhelm Tell - is said to have shot the court lord and Habsburg bailiff Gessler. The spread of this national legend was never harmed by the fact that the theater character Tell was only invented a few hundred years later by a Swabian poet - Friedrich Schiller - it was instead permanently included in school lessons.

The Union Citizens' Directive, which has existed since the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and grants Union citizens unrestricted visa-free mobility within the EU according to the core idea of ​​European integration, formed another dispute. The journalist Gerhard Schwarz, a kind of head of the sect of pure plus-making liberalism under the flag of the free market economy, wrote in the NZZ from the "almost barrier-free immigration into the Swiss social system" and considers this to be "completely unacceptable", although according to the egalitarian and constitutional EU nouns, sick or unemployed workers from the EU may of course not be treated differently than the local unemployed or sick. The EU is not a state and Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but the EU has good reason not to negotiate the minimum standards of rule of law and equal treatment.

On another controversial topic, the negotiating leeway was not properly explored: It is their right that Swiss trade unions defend the relatively high wage level in Switzerland against wage dumping from the EU. They were and are therefore skeptical of the framework agreement. It is also undisputed that the instruments to prevent wage dumping must be monitored and adapted to the circumstances. However, the problem must not be dramatized, because only about one percent of Swiss employees are affected by it.

The associations of the export-oriented economy with a volume of more than 70 billion euros per year are dissatisfied with the decision of the Bern government to break off the negotiations.