Briefing: The Swiss Model
Jack Keevill –

SUMMARY The ʻSwiss Modelʼ is often proposed as an alternative for the UKʼs relations with the European Union. More than just a free trade agreement, Switzerlandʼs relationship with the EU is a unique – and uniquely complicated – bilateral relationship, with specific challenges. This note intends to give an overview of Helvetic-European relations, highlighting the reasons for, difficulties and general complexity of the ʻbilateral wayʼ. This is followed by a brief insight of what the UK can and canʼt learn from the Swiss model.

N u c l e u s   –   B r i t i s h   L e a d e r s h i p   i n   E u r o p e  

Reasons for the ʻBilateral Wayʼ The bilateral approach of Switzerland is the result of a combination of constitutional characteristics and the pragmatic view taken by its leaders and people. ii. Direct Democracy Swiss direct democracy – quarterly popular referenda on municipal. pensions. beyond the Free Trade Agreement of 1972. Sovereignty Unsurprisingly. iii. as JHA measures touch upon some of the very core functions of the state. Switzerlandʼs relationship with the European Union is thus one best described as ʻpartial. as detailed later. In particular. environmental policy. Eurojust and other Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) measures – from which the UK Government is ʻmindedʼ to opt-out – at the request of the Swiss authorities. and those which are most invasive to the freedom of the citizen: policing. and border management. Indeed. cantonal and federal law – is a constitutional obstacle to Nucleus Briefing – CH-EU Relations Last Updated: 22/11/2012 . i. This is a long way from classic liberalisation of international trade. it only joined the United Nations in 2002. note the participation in Europol.Briefing: ʻThe Swiss Modelʼ 1. having previously rejected membership in a popular referendum in 1986. is thus ruled out. such as NATO. The line of argument runs thus: if Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. Other areas covered by the agreements include taxation. Neutrality Switzerlandʼs tradition of neutrality has in the past prevented it from joining many international organisations. 2. concerns relating to national sovereignty are among the factors at play. ʻNeutralʼ status prevents participation in any armed conflict – membership to an international organisation that could interfere with this principle. research and culture . Scope of the Bilateral Agreements – Far more than just free trade. These are outlined in this section. pragmatic integrationʼ. This is of course a familiar concept. justice. It shows clearly the range of agreements between Switzerland and the EU. it retains national sovereignty. Under international law. though does require a distinction between ʻformalʼ and ʻrealʼ sovereignty. Figure 1 is a chart from the Swiss office for EU affairs (ʻIntegration Officeʼ) showing the range and evolution of the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland.

But Swiss Ambassador to the EU notes that the EUʼs increased role in the world means the EU has become “less available for dealing with a country like ours. this area involves high costs in terms of influence. This also precludes EU accession. 3 this would be a mistake .40 Nucleus Briefing – CH-EU Relations Last Updated: 22/11/2012 . has said that the Over 200. 3. iv. EEA Rejection While it is a member of the EFTA. but in many cases such a rejection would mean the loss of the whole agreement in question. and an unnecessary complication in 1 Swiss relations with the EU . for million Swiss citizens. However. among approximately 6 The Council of the EU. as EEA membership is a prerequisite for joining. Switzerland maintains the option of rejecting Schengen provisions and other measures. which itself is not only a member of the EFTA. and Switzerland is by no means exempt from these.12 For more detail see Church. Dardanelli & Mueller p. exposed clear divisions in the electorate and enjoyed a high turnout. • • • Along similar lines.000 EU citizens commute bilateral system has daily across the Swiss border. 4. Positions                                                                                                                 1                                                                                                                 2 3 Tages Anzeiger 19. • The official position of the Swiss Federal Council is that the bilateral way remains the “most suitable instrument” for conducting Switzerlandʼs relations with the EU.2012 Maresceau p.European integration. in 2010 the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmey-Rey expressed fears that “Switzerland is becoming increasingly exposed to a high risk of discrimination (economically as well as politically) and hence to a reduction. including case law from the Court of Justice of the EU. ʻSwiss specificityʼ is further increased when you consider its customs and monetary union with Liechtenstein. of its real Facts and Figures 2 sovereignty. A Common Market requires common regulations.10. Switzerland rejected EEA membership in 1992 by popular referendum.” and EC.. Particular difficulties arose in agreeing to accept future developments in EU law. but also the EEA. the Swiss request for candidacy has never been withdrawn. Issues While it is tempting to see the Swiss model as ʻmarket access without the burden of regulationʼ. The rejection of the EEA has recently been lamented by the heads of two Swiss industry associations – Swissmem and Scienceindustries – who see the refusal to join as a missed opportunity. The referendum campaign contained a strong populist element. as outlined below. momentum for the current negotiations. while simultaneously becoming even more crucial partner to Switzerland”.. so it is still technically a candidate for EU membership. become “unwieldy to Switzerland has signed over 120 manage and has clearly individual agreements with the EU reached its limits. its part.” 1 Million EU citizens live in Switzerland. It should also be noted that fears of ʻfloods of immigrantsʼ and ʻavalanches of trucksʼ voiced in the referendum campaigns have been shown to be unfounded. Indeed. Every third Swiss Franc earned is a These divergences in result of Switzerlandʼs economic opinion provide the relationship with the EU. sometimes considerable.

Swiss proposals for agreements would be a fair summary. thus the EU See Maresceau p. including measures aimed at market regulation. To paraphrase William Hague. The European Commission on the other hand holds that the tax advantages enjoyed by firms headquartered in Switzerland constitute public aid which discriminates against “multinational enterprises which do not establish their holding or management activities in Switzerland” and are incompatible with the 4 principles of the Free Trade Agreement. regulations applied at a cantonal level.11. though it has to be emphasised that the scope for shaping policy is informal in nature.5 5 part of the single market. its real sovereignty” such as the potential loss of the agreements mentioned above. Indeed. However. it can reject elements of EU legislation. but run by Europeʼ in the areas covered by the At the time of writing. enforcement mechanisms. Democratic Deficit Switzerlandʼs role in the EU decision-making process is highly problematic in terms of the democratic deficit. This is said to work ʻfairly wellʼ in practice. Complexity The complexity of the current framework has been acknowledged. Disputes Arguably.2012 interpretation of competition rules does not apply Nucleus Briefing – CH-EU Relations Last Updated: 22/11/2012 . Disagreements exist The main draw of the ʻSwiss Modelʼ is the fact in several areas. only observer status (including speaking rights) in the ʻmixed committeesʼ that develop Schengen legislation. – a full exploration of this topic is beyond the 5 scope of this note.i. of mechanism political pressures involved. Switzerland maintains that it is not 4 Maresceau p. the need for streamlining the bureaucratic procedures involved to amend the agreements is one of the reasons for current negotiations between the two parties. Swiss-EU relations are currently at 5. Switzerland emphasises that automatic adoption of future developments These are focused on finding mutually in EU law as is found in the ʻNorwegian Modelʼ acceptable arrangements for inter alia a dispute remains unacceptable. in its territory. iii. Switzerland has no formal voting rights. this of the EEA – as well as freedom must be heavily surveillance high risk of (…) a reduction. Particular difficulty has been that Switzerland does not make a contribution to encountered over the bilateral agreementsʼ the EU budget commensurate with the size of its provisions on state aid in relation to tax economy. Regarding the Schengen Agreement. It is true that in principle.14 for further information 6 Tages Anzeiger 09. ʻout of Europe. This dispute remains unresolved. Advantages their worst in recent years. For all other policy areas. Switzerland plays no formal role in shaping policy developments. ii. independent qualified by the economic and and judicial sometimes considerable. Additionally. because settlement procedure – lacking “Switzerland is becoming of the prevalence of popular due to Swiss non-membership increasingly exposed to a referenda. The reservations A further complexity of the current arrangements relating to ʻreal sovereigntyʼ and the increasing is the potential for bilateral disputes between asymmetry in mutual importance expressed by Switzerland and an EU Member State where Swiss representatives clearly stem at least in there is only a partial EU law dimension the case part from this factor. On the                                                                                                                 one hand. resolving these issues have been rejected by the 6 EUʼs negotiators as ʻinsufficientʼ.

admin. and theoretical sovereignty are worth the loss of formal influence in the EUʼs decision-making processes. while ʻrealʼ sovereignty has to take into account the various dex.europa.                                                                                                                 7 http://www. This is technically outside of the European Unions Cohesion policy. As discussed above. diplomatic and economic pressures involved. and was approved by the Swiss electorate. the arrangements maintain Swiss sovereignty on paper.The largest contribution is to provide support – 7 amounting to 1bn Swiss Francs over 5 years – for economic and democratic reform in former Communist countries.html?lang=en Nucleus Briefing – CH-EU Relations Last Updated: 22/11/2012 . Essentially the question for the United Kingdom comes down to whether this reduced budgetary contribution.

• The ʻSwiss Modelʼ of Relations with the EU and its relevance for the UK – Written evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry ʻThe Future of the European Union: UK Government Policyʼ from Professor Clive H.would have given Switzerland solutions to the institutional questions relating to the countryʼs problems with the EU.rejected by popular referendum in 1992 . nor budget contributions. thinks EEA membership would have been a ʻsimpler and better pathʼ in Helvetic-European relations.html?lang=en Swiss Federal Office dealing with European Affairs.Sources & Further Reading • Why Britain leaving the EU for the EEA or EFTA will not solve any of the anti-EU crowdʼs complaints – J Clive Matthews Summary: EEA or EFTA arrangements solve neither democratic deficit issues. only serve to exacerbate both.” • ʻEU-Switzerland: Quo Vadis?ʼ Mark Maresceau. His counterpart in Swissmem. how well did Iceland do in the EEA? • Grosse Industrieverbände sehen EWR-Nein als verpasste Chance Plädoyer für bilateralen Weg im Verhältnis mit der EU – Tages Anzeiger 19. And really. Church. metal and electronics industries. Centre for Swiss Politics. the Swiss association of engineering.10. because it would mean giving up political leverage over fundamental EU decisions. as well as many other interesting intricacies of Swiss-EU relations. Dr Paolo Dardanelli and Sean Mueller. • Nucleus Briefing – CH-EU Relations Last Updated: 22/11/2012 . Integration Office FDFA/FDEA http://www. including English versions of most documents. says Swiss President of Scienceindustries. Various reports. It would be an inferior form of pursuing the countryʼs interests in its relations with the rest of Europe compared to the status quo.2012 (CH. assessment of the current relationship. German only) ʻLarge Industry associations see EEA rejection as missed opportunityʼ Summary: EEA membership . Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law. Spring 2011 See for more detail on the different types of integration agreements. the Swiss association of pharmaceutical. factsheets and statements on Swiss European policy are chemical and biotech industries.europa. and if anything. University of Kent (page 37) Key points: “Our central recommendation is that the Committee should consider the Swiss ʻmodelʼ of bilateral treaties as unsuited to the UK.admin. and prospects for the future.

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