Thursday, 8 March 2001

Mad Cows and Sane Swiss

The Times of Malta

The Swiss voted massively not only against joining the EU but even against the very notion of starting negotiations which could lead to such an eventuality. For the local government media this has been a non-event` Mad cows and sick pigs got more media coverage than the Swiss definite no to starting negotiations for EU membership at any time in the near future.

Yet the matter needs reflection not just because the Labour Party is basing its policy against membership in the EU on the Swiss model. It is important to reflect why the Swiss keep rejecting the EU membership option. Why the Swiss do not get impressed by whoever tries to force them to accept the EU as their only real solution to maintain prosperity which is already among the highest in the world and way above the EU average.

The Swiss are renowned for their active neutrality.` This is so strictly embedded in the Swiss mentality that it has kept the country even out of UN membership for fear that they could be compelled to join a UN peace-keeping force and send their militia to serve outside their territory. They also believe that their neutrality has been a source of peace and prosperity and has enabled them to stay out of war belligerence. In fact they have often used their strict neutrality to offer an infrastructure which warring parties readily accept as conducive to negotiated settlement without perceived prejudice.

EU membership is perceived by the population, if not by the politicians, to prejudice their neutrality credentials. So the basic argument is: why change or risk changing something which has delivered so handsomely` Why try to repair it if it is not broken`

In a similar referendum held in 1992 to vote for entry into the European Economic Area (broadly a full scale economic integration with the EU without getting involved in its Institutions or political chapters), the Swiss also had voted negatively mainly for fear that this would be the start of something irreversible.

When this time they came to the referendum vote on whether to start membership negotiations, the Swiss remembered the doomsday consequences which were predicted by the pro-EU lobby in the run-up to the 1992 referendum.


Massive exodus of Swiss companies into the EU area `

No investments coming into Switzerland `

Loss of competitive strength for Swiss exports `

Loss of confidence in Switzerland and declining competitiveness of Swiss trade and industry `

Decay of the Swiss franc caused by a loss of confidence `

Sharp rise of interest rates, which would increase beyond even the European average as a result of the lack of confidence in the Swiss economy `

Higher inflation caused by the higher interest rate levels `

Higher unemployment, which could even rise over EU levels

The Swiss reflected that not only this doomsday scenario did not materialise but that their country made much more progress than the major economies in the EU, their inflation rate is lower, their interest rates are lower, their unemployment is much lower and their economy did not suffer deep cyclical fluctuations as the major economies of the EU.`

They remembered that very recently they approved through another referendum several bilateral agreements which establish a contractual relationship with the EU on various economic fronts without any obligation to enhance this to membership status and without any obligations at the political level which could infringe on their neutrality obsession.

It was therefore easy and natural for the Swiss to reject so astoundingly the call to accept even the notion of starting negotiations for EU membership. It was a perfectly sane and sensible decision even though the EU enthusiast press tried to denigrate down to the same level as the mad cow issue.

Is not the pro-EU lobby trying to force down our throat what they failed to do to the Swiss. There is a valid argument that Switzerland in the EU would have been net payers whereas Malta would be a net beneficiary.` This is not to be discarded. But then whoever has` proved that we will in fact be net beneficiaries if the EU budget beyond 2006 is not yet agreed and we could well be over objective One level of an enlarged EU by then.` Also whilst government can well be a net beneficiary this is not the same things as saying the country as whole will also be a net beneficiary. Higher commodity prices paid by families for every day goods to adhere to CAP prices could well exceed the net funds government will ever receive.

So the Swiss have not lost their mind. They are just performed with their traditional precision.

Alfred Mifsud

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