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Monday, February 10, 2014

Europe responds to the Swiss referendum - and it ain't pretty

We suspect the reverberations from the decision in the Swiss referendum to cap the number of EU migrants might be felt for some time (we look at what the long term implications could be for the UK here). The Swiss case is interesting because unlike the debate on migrants from Central and Eastern Europe in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, it primarily affects citizens of the wealthier member states, primarily Germany, France and Italy. Here are some immediate reactions from around Europe.

The tone from the Berlin has been quite tough with Steffan Seibert, Merkel's spokesperson commenting that:
"The government takes note of the result and respects it but it is also the case, in our view, that it throws up considerable problems... It's in our interest to keep EU-Swiss relations as close as possible."
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) added that "I believe that with this result Switzerland has harmed itself". He also dusted off the classic line so beloved of his predecessor in the post:
"there can be no cherry-picking when it comes to the EU
The new FDP leader Christian Linder echoed this sentiment arguing that "The Swiss are taking from the European buffet only that what they want" (which is kind of the point of a buffet). Interestingly however he added that he was "open-minded" about having more referenda in Germany.

Meanwhile Alternative für Deutschland leader Bernd Lucke didn't explicitly argue for capping EU migration although he struck a different tone compared with the established German parties, arguing that:
"Irrespective of the result of the Swiss referendum we can also achieve in Germany an immigration law which is based on qualifications and he ability to integrate while preventing benefits migration... If necessary we could have such referendums [in Germany]."
The least diplomatic response came from Ralf Stegner, leader of the SPD faction in Schleswig-Holstein who took to twitter to describe the Swiss as "crazy".
The response in France has also been quite tough with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arguing that:
“This is bad news for Europe and the Swiss, because Switzerland will be penalised from withdrawing into itself... There’s a so-called ‘guillotine clause’ establishing that if one of the elements [of the Swiss-EU bilateral deal] is put into question – in this case, the free movement of workers – everything falls down. Therefore, this means we’ll have to renegotiate […] This means we’re going to reconsider our relations with Switzerland.”
Former French PM Fillon (UMP) was commented that:
“It would be totally incomprehensible if Switzerland put a barrier to the access of cross-border workers… On the other hand, that [Switzerland] wants to reduce the overall number of foreigners on its territory is a perfectly natural demand.”
Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said that:
“The impact [of the Swiss referendum] is undoubtedly very worrying, with regard to both Italy and the other agreements with the EU.” 
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega Nord, said:
“Hurrah for Switzerland’s democratic referendum. We’ll propose one in Italy, too.”
However, his fellow party member Roberto Cota – the governor of Piedmont – voiced concern over the future of cross-border workers from his region, claiming that:
“Respect is needed, because we’re talking about honest and regular workers. Together with [Roberto] Maroni [the governor of Lombardy, another senior Lega Nord member] we’ll request a meeting with [Italian Prime Minister Enrico] Letta on this issue as soon as possible.”
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague was quite restrained, commenting that he did not want to prejudge the results of the negotiations, adding that:
"We will be mindful of the position of 40,000 British nationals who work in Switzerland".
Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore warned that “We are seeing signs of the rise of the far-right in Europe” while the Luxembourgian foreign minister Jean Asselborn has been the most outspoken, claiming that the vote has put the Swiss in “good company” with people such as Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French Front National.

There have also been some strong responses coming out of Brussels with EU Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen commenting that:
"The message is clear today: free movement of people is a sacred right for the EU... This will clearly have implications for the rest of the agreements [with Switzerland]."
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, never knowingly understated, argued that "the single market is not a Swiss cheese. You cannot have a single market with holes in it" which is a silly statement given that the Swiss trading relationship actually is a bit like a Swiss cheese, with patchy market access in services, for example.

The response from MEPs is also interesting as they might have a say in the negotiations (although this is a bit of a grey area). While EP President Martin Schulz was relatively restrained, other senior MEPs were quick to stick the boot in.
So a lot of posturing. These negotiations will be very, very interesting...


Anonymous said...

And those with the most to lose use the most threatening tone.

Quite frankly, who cares what the EU, Germany, France or any other country thinks?

This is a matter for the Swiss only. It is clear that they have had enough of the way things are currently and want to change?

What is wrong with that? How dare the Swiss not tow the line?!

The EU : usurpers of democracy, culture and freedom of choice.

UK out


Rik said...

Looks better to let it go for a few days first and see where parties stand at that time.
As usual the most important politician and with usually a very good idea about the pulse of the voter Merky is already trying to pull the angle out of it.

Assuming that the number of traditional politicians that will remain campaigning for LePen and Wilders in next EP election will drop over time it is mainly to see with how much.

Seen from that angle it looks like the best strategy for the Swiss to let it cool down first a few days or weeks.
But as things go as I expect and normal talks can be held to speed up things after that.
Speed up so that the talks find place in the election campaign. Few, when their 2 braincells start to work, will like to be seen as an undemocratic bully in the eyes of large groups of voters.

Also in semi-public, bit low key.
Open enough that all bullying can be taken to the public. The bully-reduction part. But closed enough that normal talks can be held and one doesnot has an overstressed media circus like now.
And with someone with a brin Merky or Rompy not with an idiot like the Lux woman Reding.

For Merky it will be trying to avoid an immigration discussion before the election. Whatever the outcome of the discussion itself is, it would give AfD massive media attention and do them a lot of good as only immigration sceptic party while half the population agrees with them on that or want even more severe rules.
Keep the trade open as usual as well. Will cost German companies a lot both on the import as on the export side. Supply issues are never benificial. But German importers faced with increased costs (by red tape or levies) won't do anybody in Germany any good. And getting full scale:
-Japanese (who are doing price dumping at the moment), and
-Chinese (who want to win market for the next upscale sort of products) competition on the Swiss market, at this time is worse than lousy.

Same for the French btw. It is action and reaction. Make Swiss stuff falling under a higher levy face it the other way as well. Hardly a thing the French and Italians can afford. And they are evn more relying on normal products than the Germans. They simply have much less pricing power.
But Hollande and Co have messed up things before so there remains a ?. The Italian guy looks sensible (not the average political idiot), so less of a problem probably.

PR damage machine is already working and most of the damage will be done the first days when there is the most media attention. For every Merky article there is an E-Bully and at this stage the number of articles mainly count.
As said have to see how much it will develop in a long term story. Merky will probably have to kick some people is my guess.

Re the UK. Very correct reaction by Hague. You can say you have worries of course.
As said earlier have a look if the UK can stop the EU cancelling the 7 or so treaties, will get you an ally in the Swiss (and likley with Merkel (who doesnot want this to develop in an anti-immigration circus that her side never can win) and a good precedent on top of that.

Also excellent to make it clear that they will not only punish the Swiss (or the UK) with their bizare ideas of punishment but themselves as hard. Wait till a few German cies send out some helpmessages. Anyway better have that emotional stuff with somebody else. The number of times people can get emotional is limited before things will turn sour so better not waist one when not necessary.

Jesper said...

Suppose that Switzerland loses out by restricting the free movement, who is then the winner?

Wouldn't all the good things that in theory could have happened in Switzerland instead happen in the neighboring states? All of those states are in the EU.

New employment opportunities in the EU and EUrocrats are against it?

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know is what has Free Trade to do with the free movement of labour?

It is an EU concept and is political. Why are the EU trying to force this onto non-member states? Is this yet another illegal EU power grab?

The EU is past its sell-by date and needs to be dismantled before it causes more conflict.


Rollo said...

Fabulous explanation of the attitude of the EU; a Buffet in which you have no choice other than to swallow what you are told when you are told; regardless of appetite, need, taste.

johnlandseer said...

One size fits none....

Anonymous said...

The eussr response is what we expected, Ireland referendum had to be repeated, French referendum had to be repeated, because the first ones gave the wrong answer for the unelected commissars.

Ukraine says it is stopping the accession, what a joke it is to use that word, and the eussr commission gets angry, So why is anyone surprised at the response to Switzerland having used a democratic process, because that is something the eussr has no real concept about.

christina speight said...

Tn Brussels the voice of the people is the one thing they never listen to. They hate the people - the people are dirt , a rabble, pig-ignorant

The Swiss people have spoken and that's the end of it, The politicians can piuck up the pieces of the wreckage they have caused!

[And Anonymous firsletsainit up SC - PLEASe we are being made to TOE the line not tow it !!!]

christhai said...

One thing for certain is that the Swiss thought long and hard about this qualification of Immigration.

The Swiss have been under a number of dire threats from the EU from the time their population dared to say NO Thank you - we Swiss do NOT want to join your EU organisation.

I believe the Swiss will inspire many other subject states in the EU with this resistance to Brussels saying who can or cannot go where.

Like it or not - the EU is crumbling. If it is here in ten years time it will be a small trading council.

Anonymous said...

christina speight

"Tow the line" - unpredictable predictive text to blame on my mobile.


intelektualac said...

Good for the Swiss.

I don't see how they would "suffer" - that is a ridiculous claim.

Considering the high unemployment in the EU there will be less places to go to so they'll get better people from the EU for less.

Besides, the EU is a joke. Why NOT do it? They'd be better off if they introduced quotas, allowed less people overall, but increase the relative share of non-EU countries. Take that, Jose.