Switzerland and its bilateral relations with the European Union should not be a model for people who want Britain to leave the EU, a study by foraus, a Swiss foreign policy think tank, has concluded.
In the run-up to the referendum on June 23, several British eurosceptics have become convinced that the Swiss model offers a bright future in which countries outside the EU thrive, sign free trade agreements with whomever they want and have control of their borders.
However, two experts in European integration have published a study that pours cold water on these views.
“The idea is not to take a position on the referendum,” stressed co-author Cenni Najy on Monday. “Our aim was to analyse the pro-Brexit arguments from a Swiss point of view.”
Regarding the bilateral path, Najy said they wanted to explain Switzerland’s experiences and the difficulties it had encountered during negotiations with the EU.
The study highlighted that the talks for the first of two packages of bilateral treaties had taken almost ten years. The authors said Britain should expect to encounter an equally “cumbersome” process and that it also should expect to be forced, like Switzerland, to have to retain agreements allowing for the free movement of people – one of the biggest bones of contention for Brexiteers.
“The European Union doesn’t need Britain any more than it needs Switzerland.” Cenni Najy
“With Switzerland, the EU is in a position of strength. It’s the EU that controls what’s on the agenda of talks,” Najy said.
Would Britain have greater room to manoeuvre in the event of Brexit? Najy doesn’t mince his words: “The European Union doesn’t need Britain any more than it needs Switzerland,” he said. “On the European domestic market, the economic difference between the two countries is insignificant. Just because Britain is larger doesn’t mean it’s more important. Switzerland occupies a strategic position at the heart of Europe.”
Lack of influence
What’s more, one of the arguments put forward by the Leave camp is that Brexit would allow Britain to flourish economically while regaining its sovereignty and independence.
As the foraus study shows, however, Switzerland doesn’t have access to the decision-making process in Brussels – a lack of influence which forces it to adapt to European legislation.
Britain would not only have to do the same, but would also have to dip its hands into its pockets to participate in the EU’s so-called Single Market – where EU countries can trade with each other without restrictions or tariffs – as well as other EU agencies and programmes.
Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch and agencies