On a Swiss roll
Relations between Switzerland and the EU are governed by a series of bilateral treaties and the Swiss Confederation has adopted various provisions of European Union law in order to participate in the Union’s single market, without joining as a member state. On Sunday, 27 September the Swiss voted in a referendum initiated by the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) to restrict freedom of movement for EU nationals seeking to enter the country, claiming – you may have heard this somewhere else – that ‘there are too many immigrants’. The initiative was heavily defeated by 62 to 38 per cent. It was opposed by the federal Government and businesses. The NZZ (28.09) describes it as a ‘painful defeat for the SVP and a vote for bilateral relations with the EU’.
Hard to imagine any country wanting to rat on an agreement with its main trading partner.
However, the defeat of the initiative doesn’t mean the bilateral approach is safe. The EU has been making it clear since 2008 that this approach is reaching its limits and that an institutional solution is needed, with a dispute settlement system for every area in which Switzerland takes part in the internal market. Without a framework agreement Brussels is unwilling to agree any further market access agreements with Bern or to update the existing ones. The NZZ says this would gradually reduce Switzerland to the status of a third country. A lot of people in Switzerland can live quite happily with the existing bilateral relationship. But ‘the Swiss tendency to navel-gazing ignores the fact that the status quo is no longer on offer in Brussels. The Swiss government needs to make clear to the EU that it wants the framework agreement’. Sooner or later voters will need to decide, but the NZZ says the resounding ‘No’ on Sunday shows that usually they take a pragmatic approach.
Back to the dark ages?
Belgium is currently undergoing one of its periods without a government. De Standaard (Flemish-Belgian paper) reported on 28 September that Bart De Wever (leader of the N-VA: New Flemish Alliance) thinks that the problem is insoluble and that Belgium should abandon PR and use the British noughts-and-crosses system of voting instead. First past the post gives the largest party an enormous, unmerited advantage. Mr DeWever’s party is the largest in the Belgian Parliament (with only about 16% of the votes). First-past-the-post could give it about 45% of the seats. Why do you think Mr De Wever wants to change the way Belgians vote? By the way, two days later a government was formed, with the support of 85 out of 150 members.
Taking French leave of one’s senses
In its 28 September edition French Morning London, the voice of French expats in the UK, reports on the launch in a London of a new political movement called Génération Frexit (founded symbolically on 14 July). As the name suggests, it is for French people who want their country to leave the EU. The founder, Charles-Henri Gallois describes the European idea as ‘disastrous’. Why? Because it’s allegedly undemocratic with ‘all decisions emanating from Brussels’. He has borrowed the Leavers’ meaningless slogan of ‘Take back control’. French Morning London omits to give Gallois’ age, but 14 might be about right. Someone should tell him that even Marine Le Pen has abandoned the idea of a referendum on France’s continued membership of the EU. She realises, as Farage doesn’t, that it would be economic suicide.
Coming like a Balt from the blue…
ERR News (Estonian Public Broadcasting) has run a number of stories since 29 September on a recent investigation into the sinking of the ‘Estonia’ car and passenger ferry in 1994 on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm. There were 989 people on board – 852 of them lost their lives. (This is of particular interest to me as I was on the ‘Estonia’ during the night of 19 to 20 June 1994, just three months before). The original inquiry of 1997 found that the sinking was caused by the bow visor of the ship being ripped off, although it is not known why. There are now claims that a four-meter-wide hole in the sunken vessel’s hull could have been caused by a collision with a submarine.
Margus Kurm, former state prosecutor, is convinced of the submarine theory, while Tallinn University of Technology emeritus professor Jaan Metsaveer, who was an inquiry committee member, strongly doubts this explanation. He said that Margus Kurm interpreted the laws of physics in a way that suited him, in order to back up his submarine theory, adding that the hole was probably caused post-sinking, as there are rocky outcrops underneath the Baltic seabed’s sand. But if it really was a submarine, why do people think it was a Swedish vessel? Evelyn Sepp, the initiator of the investigative committee in 2005 says cryptically ‘The Swedish state has not been honest with Estonia’.