Monday, 10 February 2014

Switzerland's misleading model

The EU helps Eurosceptics when it allows Switzerland to be in the single market while pretending to be outside of it.

Last week, when Dutch Eurosceptic politician Geert Wilders unveiled a much-anticipated 'nexit study' (Netherlands exit from the EU), Switzerland featured prominently in the press conference.

The wealthy Alpine nation, about the same size as the Netherlands geographically, was held out as the paradise which would await a country if it leaves the EU.  Mark Pragnel, an analyst at British firm Capital Economics, which conducted the study, said Switzerland’s bilateral system of treaties with the EU is a model that the Dutch should emulate. “We think the Swiss option is viable for the Netherlands,” he said.

The argument is not new. Switzerland often features prominently in British debates about leaving the union. Not being in the EU hasn’t harmed economically thriving Switzerland, so why would it harm the UK? In fact, Switzerland’s success is often held out as being the result of, rather than in spite of, the country not being subject to EU law.

But this narrative is false. Switzerland is in fact part of the EU’s single market and it has to follow most EU law. Like the European Economic Area (EEA) countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Switzerland exists in a ‘fax democracy’. Its ten bilateral treaties with Brussels, which mirror EEA membership in all but name, bind the country to follow EU law in agriculture, transport, trade, public procurement, environment, free movement and border control.