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Press review Government ‘needs more vision and leadership’ in EU debate

Three cabinet ministers

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, President Alain Berset and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (all front) head to a press conference on Friday


Swiss newspapers are unimpressed by the government's announcement that it wants to carry out a public consultation before taking a final position on an “institutional framework” agreement negotiated with the European Union. 

“Whoever has visions should go to the doctor,” declared former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Doctors are soon going to run out of patients, at least when it comes to the political discussion in Switzerland about Europe, declared the Neue Zürcher Zeitungexternal link (NZZ) on Saturday. “This is anything but healthy,” it said. 

Since 2014, talks have been taking place to formalise relations between Switzerland the EU. These have been complicated, however, by Swiss opposition from the traditionally pro-Europe left and unions and the anti-EU conservative right who believe the framework deal encroaches too much on Swiss sovereignty.  

On Friday, the government neither accepted nor rejected the deal, instead asking the foreign ministry to carry out a national consultation with political parties, cantons, parliament and associations.  

+ Putting the institutional framework agreement in context 

Brussels, which wants Switzerland to agree a treaty before granting greater access to EU markets, is running out of patience.  

“We want to recall that the EU side has invested a lot of time, effort and political goodwill into this process. President Juncker personally spoke 23 times to four Swiss Presidents; 32 rounds of technical negotiations took place,” the European Commission said in a statementexternal link on Friday. 

The problem, according to the NZZ, is that “everyone in Switzerland – from farmers resisting any liberalisation, traders and unions calling for protection against foreign competition, and the political left railing against corporate tax reforms – the only thing everyone knows is what they are against. This is the real disease of affluent Switzerland. And the standstill when it comes to reforms is the symptom”. 

Under a frontpage headline calling for “a vision and more leadership”, it noted that foreign policy was the responsibility of the Federal Council. “Given this, the Federal Council should finally see itself less as a committee of heads of department and more as a political cabinet with strategic vision. But as long as each [Federal Councillor] moves around the country and heads to Brussels with a different opinion coloured by their party allegiance, it’s not surprising if ultimately it’s difficult to represent the outcome in a united manner and to explain to parliament and the public why something is in the best national interest,” the paper said.

“But this is exactly what’s urgently needed now: more persuasiveness and courage concerning leadership. A Federal Council that, as on Friday, simply acknowledges and manoeuvres is not persuasive.” 

‘Hard to forgive’ 

The Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich was equally scathing, saying in an editorialexternal link it was “speechless” at the government basically passing the buck. 

“The Swiss now have to do their sums and weigh up the situation. The government doesn’t want to help them,” it said. 

The Tages-Anzeiger admitted that it was good for everyone to be able to see the deal – “transparency can only raise the quality of the debate”. What’s more, the institutional framework deserved the closest scrutiny “since the final decision will largely shape what country our descendants grow up in”. 

“We’re now facing a demanding total assessment,” it said. “That the government has completely refused to address this leaves one pretty much speechless. ‘We agree with some paragraphs and disagree with others – now you have a look.’ That, in a nutshell, is what the government told the country yesterday.” 

It continued: “The inability to evaluate, to appreciate the achievements and to take a corresponding position is hard to forgive. No other body in the country has so much information and should be as clear about particular interests as the Federal Council. But instead of assuming its responsibility, it throws, like a grumpy dog owner, the treaty text at the feet of the public like a bone.”

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