E.U. Membership was rejected by 77 percent of the Swiss on March 4. Inevitably, parallels are being drawn with what happened in Denmark last September, when the Danes rejected further E.U. integration by saying “no” to the euro. The Swiss, however, did not even want to begin investigating incorporation into the European Union. As in Denmark, the people of Switzerland had to face a pro-E.U. coalition of forces composed of virtually the entire political and business establishment, leading unions, and mass media.
Nonetheless, E.U. membership remains the long-term desire of the current Swiss government. Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss has made it clear that the referendum’s failure “would in no way deflect [the Swiss government] from its pro-European course . . . The ‘no’ vote could in no way be interpreted as meaning a rejection of EU membership as such.” This was also the opinion of the E.U. Commission, whose spokesman said that the result did not indicate that the Swiss were opposed to E.U. membership, but rather that they did not want to begin negotiations now. The Financial Times (March 5) quoted the commission as saying that “they decided to answer the question later. This is a choice that we will respect.”
The referendum was promoted by the New European Movement Switzerland (NEMS), part of the mostly socialist coalition that lobbied for the initiative’s passage with the support of the left and its trade unions, but the magnitude of the result surprised the other major parties, including the Christian Democrats, whose leadership had endorsed the referendum despite opposition from the party’s cantonal branches. “No” votes prevailed in every one of the Swiss cantons.
Victory was claimed by billionaire businessman Christoph Blocher, who led the campaign against E.U. membership. He spent up to $500,000 in advertisements arguing that E.U. membership would cost Switzerland its national characteristics of freedom, independence, direct democracy, armed neutrality, and prosperity, while forcing the country to pay billions to support bureaucrats in Brussels. Moreover, Switzerland would have to adopt a wide range of internal reforms to adapt fully to the E.U. model. Those reforms would undoubtedly prove somewhat unpalatable to the average Swiss Citizen. These include increasing the number of government ministers, reducing the scope of direct democracy, and doubling the VAT (value-added tax) rate from 7.6 to 15 percent, the E.U. minimum.
The Swiss Federal Committee for a Direct Democratic Neutral and Sovereign Switzerland, an umbrella body comprising some 20 anti-E.U. grassroots groups has pointed out that, in some cantons, the result of the referendum went even beyond their rosiest expectations. In two cantons (Uri and Appenzell-Innerrhoden), over 90 percent voted “No”; in Grisons (where the Rhaeto-Romanic language prevails), 85.5 percent voted “No”; and in Italian-speaking Ticino, the “No” vote reached 84.1 percent. “The growing resistance in Switzerland to the EU is due to the development of the Union towards becoming an anti-democratic entity in the hands of the Socialist International,” claimed the committee. “The unjustified sanctions against its neighbour Austria opened the eyes of a large majority of Swiss citizens.” The committee decried decisions taken at the Nice summit as instrumental in strengthening “the domination of France and Germany over all the smaller European countries.” That domination is so great that “an unmistakable development towards an EU dictatorship under the Franco-German axis is rapidly taking place.”
A further bone of contention for Swiss citizens, the committee argued, “is the new European army (60,000 professional soldiers, capable of being deployed in a 4,000 km radius for over a year). This instrument, which has not been democratically legitimised by the European population, will be the military arm of the Socialist International . . . It can also be used against European countries which do not comply with the French-German axis of the new imperium.”
The defeat of the referendum is but the latest sign of an increasing dissatisfaction with the European Union across the Continent, including Denmark’s rejection of the euro last September, efforts in Sweden to revisit a referendum on E.U. membership, and the growing dislike of the euro and Brussels in the United Kingdom.
In Denmark, billionaire tycoon Paul Sykes spent £500,000 on anti-euro advertisements in newspapers. Is it simply a coincidence that, while the Swiss were busy casting their vote, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the European Union can suppress criticism of itself? Referring to this as a free-speech case, the Daily Telegraph (March 10) reported that the court justified its ruling by resorting to a legal device used by fascist governments to suppress dissent in the 1920’s and 1930’s: “the protection of the rights of others.” This ruling, according to the paper, “shows that the ECJ (despite paying lip-service) does not consider itself bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. This is an extremely serious development because the EU’s new Charter of Fundamental Rights extends the ECJ’s competence into the area of civil liberties, transforming it into a full-fledged supreme court.” The paper concluded that “The door could soon be open for the ECJ to start ruling on free speech cases involving ordinary EU citizens, or indeed involving Euro-sceptic newspapers,” ending in a situation in which the court will be pitted against another court—namely, the one that enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.