Home World EU fury: How Switzerland's rejection of EEA caused 'grave ruptures' in Europe

EU fury: How Switzerland's rejection of EEA caused 'grave ruptures' in Europe


This is because Switzerland held a significant vote of their own on Europe, 14 years prior to the UK’s own historic referendum. The Swiss Government began the application process for the EU in 1992, but their hard work towards the objective was dashed almost immediately. In December of the same year, the country voted in a referendum on whether they wanted to join the European Economic Area (EEA).

The result sent shockwaves to Brussels and Bern, as 50.3 percent voted against the idea, leaving the EU’s hopes of expansion in tatters.

Rene Felber, then the President of the Federal Council in Bern, said at the time: “This ordeal provoked the Swiss Government to suspend the application for EU membership.

“Switzerland has renounced the many political and economic opportunities opened up by the European Economic Area.

“It has also broken with its traditional policy of rapprochement with Europe.

“We have witnessed a grave rupture between the Federal authorities and the people.

“The cleavage between the French-speaking cantons and the rest of Switzerland is a matter of great concern.”

Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, another member of the seven-man council, warned that European economic integration would go ahead anyway and that Switzerland’s “defection” would result in discrimination, possibly against its economy.

The campaigning for the Swiss referendum displayed many of the hallmarks of the Brexit debate in the UK, with economic opportunities and political uncertainty key themes.

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The country’s political and economic establishment argued that the country would lose its competitive edge if it resisted the movement toward regional economic blocs.

Some leading business executives and bankers even warned that investment would drop and unemployment would grow, the New York Times reported at the time.

But opponents of integration said Switzerland’s unique grass-roots democracy would be undermined if political decision-making was transferred to the community’s headquarters in Brussels.

They also insisted that the country would remain an appealing financial haven if it kept its distance.

Another effective argument, though, was that Switzerland would see an increase in immigration.

In 2016, the EU’s disaster was compounded.

Just a week before the UK went to the polls, politicians in Switzerland voted to withdraw the country’s application for membership of the EU.

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Thomas Minder, counsellor for Schaffhausen state and an active promoter of the concept of ‘Swissness,’ said at the time he was eager to “close the topic fast and painlessly” as only “a few lunatics” may want to join the EU now.

A total of 27 members of parliament’s upper house voted to invalidate the application, backing up an earlier decision by the lower house.

Only 13 senators voted against while two abstained.

Swiss media quoted the country’s Foreign Minister at the time as claiming he would give Brussels formal notice.

Hannes Germann, also representing Schaffhausen, compared the symbolic importance to Iceland’s decision to drop its membership bid in 2015.

He said: “Iceland had the courage and withdrew the application for membership, so no volcano erupted.“


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