Wednesday, 7 September 2016

I Predict A Heated Debate

Way back in the mists of time I posted about the situation in Switzerland and the ongoing negotiations to place a cap on inwards EU migration.  I look back at that early post and think how far I've come as a blogger and, dare I say, human being. Back then I was doing embarrasssing things like posting pop videos with semi-appropriate song titles and filling up valuable internet space with pretend conversations with fictional readers.  I believe I even claimed at one point that Switzerland was a land of erotic adventure.  I'd never dream of doing that sort of thing these days, not now that I am a serious blogger speaking truth to power with authority and gravitas. Anyway, getting back to the main thrust of this post, there have been developments that might affect future Swiss/EU relations.  It might be the case that these developments can gives us clues about the future of UK/EU negotiations.  Let's have a look at them together, shall we?

Switzerland is a signatory to the freedom of movement of labour in the European Union.  It is also a signatory to 120 other bi-lateral treaties with the EU.  Each treaty agreement is coupled to the next like a house of cards that took over 20 years of pain-staking effort to build.  In February, 2014, a referendum was held to place a cap on inwards migration from the EU.  The proposal to impose a cap won the day with 50.3% of all votes cast, leaving the government in Bern with the difficult task of implementing a solution within the statutory 3 years. A Swiss/EU deadlock meant that pretty much nothing has happened in those years that is worthy of a blog post.  Fast forward to today and three events have happened in quick succession (quick for Switzerland, anyway).  The first is that there are now enough signatures to force a second referendum, while the second is that the Swiss Parliament has rejected the imposition of quotas.  Drum roll please for the final bombshell:  the government have announced their negotiating position (German). About time, too, if you ask me.

This second referendum idea is a bit of a novelty, isn't it?  The basic idea is that a more detailed referendum question will properly outline the consequences of a migration cap.   Can you imagine? Neither side really wants this:  the proponents of migration limits have a lot to lose, while the opponents can't seem to agree on a shared strategy.  I don't think this will happen directly but might still be a possibility if the negotiating position fails.  I'm teasing you here but we'll come back to this later on.

That second event of limited interest is that the Swiss parliament in Bern rejected the unilateral imposition of quotas on EU nationals.  This isn't too surprising because almost all Swiss parties support the continuation of the bi-lateral treaties and absolutely don't want to endanger Swiss trade by ripping up a single treaty on EU labour movements.  I'm an EU migrant so I'm personally pleased that good sense prevailed.  I also live here and don't want any shocks to the price of German beer in the event that a unilateral limit triggers the immediate breakdown of all 120 treaties.  Really, this would have been a terrible idea.   The EU would not have taken a unilateral cap without an immediate response.

Do not send this to Jacques Delors.  He'll go nuclear.
What about that negotiating position?  Well, how's this for kicking the can down the road?  The proposal is to just leave it all up to employers by asking them to have a hiring preference for local people.   I bet you never expected that!  It is only a proposal right now so there is no guarantee that the EU will accept it.  I'm not sure they will accept it, to be honest: even though the definition of local people includes EU citizens already living in Switzerland, it still forces employers to behave in a disciminatory way against EU nationals not already here.  It also leads me to the definition of "here".  Could an Austrian move over the border, rent a room and then say they are "here" for the purposes of employment?  Maybe "here" means here and employed. Well, what happens if I lose my job and need to look for another one?  Am I "here" or not?  This needs fleshed out because there is plenty of scope for endless debate about the true meaning of the proposal.  A good time to be a lawyer.

Is he "here" or just here?  Neither.  He is there but not "there".  I am "here". Where are you?
There are a few interesting clues in all of this that might be of interest to UK nationals.  The first is that the Swiss blinked first.  In fact, the EU had pretty much told the Swiss government that there was no further time for negotiations because they had their hands full with Brexit.  The Swiss clock (not cuckoo, they are Bavarian you fool) was ticking towards the 3 year limit and something had to be done. This is a bit like the 2 year limit on exiting the EU after triggering Article 50.  At some point the UK is going to find itself staring at the Countdown clock in a game with a much larger adversary.  Don't forget the influence of the media scrum banging on about immigrants eating swans and British jobs for British people and so on.  This will be stressful for all involved and someone has to blink first.  Also of interest is that the anti-EU campaigners have not had their way in the sense that a straightforward cap on migration is not now a likely outcome.  There are actually a lot of similarities between the SVP and UKIP, especially in the way that their poster campaigns are openly racist and xenophobic.  Anyway, the key point is that there is significant pro-EU political momentum that can't be stopped by a single referendum.  This is also true of the UK parliament and civil service, both of which are strongly positive about the benefits of EU membership.   My last point is that the second referendum might not look all that attractive now but might start to if negotiations hit a sticky patch.  Theresa May might say that there will be no second referendum but what happens when she starts to feel she can't negotiate an outcome that will satisfy Nigel Farage and the denizens of Canary Wharf?   Could Switzerland ultimately lead the way on this issue? Literally nobody knows so there is no point in speculating.  Yes, I know, I just devoted a few hundred words to idle speculation. 

That's enough Swiss chat for now.  In case you're wondering, it is not really a land of erotic adventure.  Excellent cheese, though.

Over and out,


PS Of course, none of these developments really affect me because my own EU citizenship is soon to expire.  Is the UK government on the ball with this?  Thought not.

PPS Just for fun I might do a quick post about the SVP.  They are really quite an odious group of people and the similarities with UKIP are rather striking.

PPPS One more post about trade deals in the pipeline and then we can all move on with our lives.


  1. I read that the EU were prepared to accept the decision (narrow though it was) of the Swiss people, but that being a part of single market involved the principle of freedom of movement of goods and people. One went with, and was dependent upon, the other. That was the deal on offer; take it or leave it. More or less, in fact, what the Guardian article suggests.

    So the second referendum is something I suspect that the Swiss Government could happily do without. My German is far too poor to read an article on it, so I'm guessing.

    It is a possibility here. There are calls, and I can certainly see the reasoning for them, that once negotiations are concluded the peoples of Britain be given the right to vote again on something more concrete. (After all there were people who voted last time who had no idea what the EU was, what it involved, etc. One believed what one read. If one read the Mail or the Express, I suppose one believed that foul hordes of foreigners were poised to steal children, jobs, pocket money, and garden implements.)

    The trouble is that, negotiations won't start till formal application is made, and won't finish for two years after that. Once formal application is made, the leaving process begins. It's not reversible.

    So Britain would have to leave and begin again... and we all know, because they told us during the Scottish referendum, that that would mean a 7 year wait at best, behind Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Turkey, and for all we know, Antarctica!

    I'm also trying to imagine what would happen if, in a second referendum, they voted narrowly to stay. Would the racists be out on the streets burning and slashing... and might it be the end of the editor of the Daily Express?

    The Shangrilas were singing flat!

    Just saying...

  2. I agree that a second referendum in the UK would be squeaky bum time. It is the last thing we want. The choice is accept this deal or exit the EU with no deal at all. Given the misunderstanding last time I'm not hopeful a 2nd attempt would lead to a reduction in general craziness.

    The Swiss are hoping that a fudge on freedom of movement will be enough to keep the EU happy and retain all 120 treaties without change. I suspect, as you do too, that they are being optimistic here. So far, the EU have not moved an inch. They have still to put the new proposal to the EU. Even doing that is voluntary for the Swiss, though Parliament has signalled that they intend to do it. If the EU rejects the proposal then the second referendum is an option. The government are duty bound to do something by February to respond to the referendum, unlike in the UK. The good news is that the Swiss will not unilaterally impose the cap. There is precedent for having a follow-up referendum but it's not really in anyone's interest because it will take some years to organise. They've already blinked. Will they blink again?

    I can't even imagine a 2nd referendum voting to stay in the UK. I can certainly imagine a street movement like EDL doing something truly depressing. Not a good time to a migrant worker in England or Wales.

    The Shangri-las were the bad girls of their day. Way too bad to bother singing in tune.

    1. Unfortunately there's been anti immigrant nonsense in Scotland too.

      A mate of mine in Glasgow (Pakistani) says he's starting to get a bit wary of being out alone at night.

      It's nothing like some places in England though. Happily!

      Ahhhhh... that was their excuse. We're bad ass, so we might as well be bad at this singing thingy too?

    2. That is sad news. In fact, the saddest part of all of this madness is that it has brought quite a lot of hate to the surface and emboldened people who hold extreme views. Truly depressing. I could barely bring myself to watch the referendum campaign so June turned out to be a busy month for DIY.

      I wonder if it took a real bad ass like Phil Spector to get a performance out of them. You're not really a true pop producer if you don't threaten the band with loaded guns.


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