Switzerland and the EU

The Bilateral Way: Opportunism and “Rosinenpickerei”

, by Dominik Gerber

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The Bilateral Way: Opportunism and “Rosinenpickerei”

Whilst Swiss people appreciate and celebrate the achievements of federalism within the country, they totally forget about it when acting internationally. There seem to be other principles ruling Switzerland’s European policy, more opportunist ones.

Distrust and reluctance towards supra-national co-operation and cosmopolitan solutions are inherent elements of Switzerland’s political tradition. This is also true for the European integration issue. Instead of contributing to the formation of the European idea, Switzerland chose to devote itself to a bilateral approach with the EU.

During the past 10 years, different agreements on key issues have been negotiated and ratified, and today Swiss citizens can benefit from European achievements basically to the same extent as regular EU members - look e.g. at the signs above customs’ boxes of airports - but without assuming any responsibility in the European construction process. Generous approvals of opt-out clauses (such as e.g. the ominous “bank secrecy”) weren’t really great incentives for Switzerland to move away from its opportunist thinking of “picking-the-raisins” out of the EU-acquis.

“Why should we join the EU when we have everything we want?” This wide-spread attitude has got new relevance in summer 2005 with the clear double-confirmation of the bilateral strategy in two referendums. In the same sense, the government declared in October that the bilateral way is “successful interest politics” and has moved to a policy change: EU accession is no longer “a strategic goal”, it has been downsized to a “long-term option”. Bilateralism now seems to be a consolidated long-term strategy in Swiss foreign policy.

As Switzerland knows from its own history, federalist integration is a viable way to make different cultures co-exist peacefully, to save common interests on a common level and to generate prosperity out of diversity. But Swiss bilateral freeriderism goes against this chance. As a part of Europe, who benefits to a high extent from achieved stability in Europe, Switzerland has also a moral duty to contribute its part for the European project and to participate in European politics as a frank and regular European player and not as a “special case”.

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