EU/Switzerland Brexit Divorce Court

Here straight out of left field, unnoticed and unmentioned by all who are supposed to be in-the-know, is something with direct influence upon how the Brexit saga is going to unfold in the coming weeks and months. Yes: even though it is out of Switzerland. (And, once again, here the underlying article is in English, so you can click through and judge it for yourself, if you so desire.)

You see, the anti-immigration bug also bit into the Swiss voting public, but a while back, namely in February 2014 with the “Federal Popular Initiative Against Mass Immigration.” It won – with but 50.3% of the vote, but that is enough as long as it also wins in a majority of the Swiss cantons – and thereby expressed the Swiss electorate’s desire for a system of quotas to be placed upon those outsiders seeking to come to live in Switzerland.

“Much like those who voted “Leave” in the recent UK Brexit referendum would like to do,” you might think. Still, such quotas have not yet been implemented by the Swiss government, which has until next February – that is, three years after the referendum itself – to do so.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a similar one to the one facing the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote: Switzerland also has a close relationship with the EU – although not member-state status, of course, and in fact the Swiss Parliament last month voted to formally withdraw the application to join the EU that had been submitted back during happier times in 1992. (Note that it did this before the Brexit vote.)

Nonetheless, the Swiss continue to enjoy close economic relations with the EU (e.g. 56% of Swiss exports go to EU countries), whose trade and other provisions are expressed in a collection of treaties negotiated over time between the Swiss government and the EU as a whole (represented by the Commission). Unfortunately, these treaties made a condition of such close relations that the Swiss allow free movement of EU citizens to Switzerland. For example, as the article points out, “300,000 people cross the border each day to work there.”

So the “people” – or at least the referendum – want quotas limiting immigration to Switzerland, including by EU citizens, while the treaties with the EU do not allow any such thing. Indeed, last December Commission President Juncker rejected an attempt by Switzerland to assert that it was allowed to introduce immigration quotas under some sort of “extreme situation/Act of God” provision in the relevant bilateral treaty.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government has been tying itself up in knots trying to come up with some sort of quota-that-really-isn’t-a-quota that would satisfy both sides. Good luck with that! And this is a situation whose final resolution, in whatever form, will be painfully obvious to all no later than next February!

Given new developments with Brexit, and in particular the continuing delusions on the part of the many Leave advocates there (to include Boris Johnson, in his one post-Brexit Daily Telegraph column) that somehow it will be possible to limit freedom of movement into the UK while retaining all trading privileges with the EU, how enthusiastic do you think EU officials will be to cut the Swiss a break? Not very, one can imagine – also, because whatever is agreed (if anything) to solve this one EU/sovereign nation impasse could of course be applicable as a precedent to apply to the EU/UK situation.

In a (small) way, this development is a boon to the UK government: they don’t need to try so much any more to get the EU to negotiate before they invoke Article 50 (if they ever do) in order to try to get some foretaste of what an ultimate “divorce” settlement with the EU would look like. (And so far the EU has refused any sort of pre-invocation negotiations, in any case.) No, if they like they can just keep a close eye on Switzerland and wait until February of next year.

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