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"Good news" for Swiss as Europe leans right

Reuters

Sunday's European elections will allow centre-right parties to dominate the next European Parliament and that bodes well for Bern in its fiscal spat with Brussels.

This content was published on June 8, 2009 - 20:16

In an interview with swissinfo.ch, René Schwok, a professor at the European Institute in Geneva, says that the European Parliament must still work toward consensus but that the weakening of the left could ease pressure on Switzerland and its tax laws.

European newspapers pointed out on Monday that the right, whether in power or opposition, has been bolstered by Sunday's vote. They also noted that the left had been unable to capitalise on the economic crisis.

Schwok shares that view while adding that the right was successfully able to claim positions typically held by the left concerning state intervention. Schwok also notes that the future of the left depends on its ability to retool its message to attract those lured away by the Greens.

swissinfo.ch: The right and the Greens were the big winners at Sunday's ballot box, a little bit like in Switzerland during the last federal elections.

René Schwok: Indeed, the elections mark a centre-right victory, a shift for the Greens and a severe setback for Social Democrats. The far right also advanced a bit.

On the European level, despite the national differences, there is still a strong centre-right resistance. It even had a better result than the rough returns show, since the European Parliament has fewer members than in previous elections and British conservatives just left the European People's Party (EPP).

Generally speaking, the centre-right over these last few months pursued a policy of state intervention, reclaiming a part of the social-democratic platform. That is a trend equally observable in Switzerland.

swissinfo.ch: How do you explain this paradox of the left breaking up as unemployment rises rapidly?

R.S.: With a few exceptions, like in Greece, the socialist left has been crushed across all of Europe. As I said, that is due to the centre-right claiming some of the positions of the left. In addition, the socialists are no longer the bearers of an imaginative discourse of hope and openness that the Greens embody today. This slide is very clear in France.

swissinfo.ch: Is the environment the future of the left in Switzerland and Europe?

R.S.: One thing is clear: In Europe, the socialist or social-democratic electorate is increasingly made up of officials and well-educated people with a middle-class income. European socialists must realise these changes and come up with new topics for an electorate attracted to the Greens.

That said, for years now observers have said that the future belongs to the environmentalists. But they too have experienced ups and downs, with big leadership problems. If they have a good leader, like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, they'll have a very good result.

swissinfo.ch: These elections also signal a swing toward the extreme right. In light of the results, is the European Parliament going to continue to seek consensus?

R.S.: The extreme right parties that had excellent returns in certain countries have a major structural problem. They are very nationalistic and are struggling to come together and collaborate on the European level. Their influence is therefore likely to be weak.

Indeed, the European Parliament is going to continue to seek the greatest possible consensus, like in Switzerland.

The possible entrance of certain liberal parties into the heart of the EPP is also worth noting. This would further reinforce this policy.

Another important outcome for the EU: the very poor showing from the Libertas party in Ireland opens the way for the adoption by that country of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum likely to happen, and therefore, the implementation of this treaty by all member countries. That is a key issue for the future of Europe.

On the contrary, the surge of very conservative Euro-sceptics in Britain may be confirmed at the next parliamentary elections in that country. This will have a negative impact, particularly on the Council of Ministers of the EU.

swissinfo: Is the result good for Switzerland in its relations with the EU?

R.S.: The strengthening of the centre-right can slightly lessen the pressure on Switzerland and its tax laws. By definition, the left is more demanding in this area than the right.

The result of the elections in Germany is also important for Switzerland. The victory of the Christian Democrats and the liberals suggests a possible coalition between these two parties, to the detriment of the Social Democrats who have been weakened at the ballot. And yet this party has shown itself to be particularly aggressive in regard to Switzerland and its banking secrecy.

That said, you must remember that the pressure on Switzerland comes largely from ministers of member countries, from the European Commission or the Council of EU Ministers and much less from the European Parliament.

Finally, these elections should facilitate the re-election of Manuel Barroso to the head of the European Commission. Yet the former prime minister of Portugal could be considered a friend to Switzerland. He has also studied at the European Institute and at the political science department at Geneva University and knows well the reality of Switzerland.

Frédéric Burnand, swissinfo.ch (Translated from French by Tim Neville)

Election highlights

According to unofficial results, voter turnout was 42.9%, a drop from 2004 when 45.5% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

The centre right: Member of the European People's Party (EPP) have won 263 seats out of 736 in the European Parliament. Liberals won 80 seats.

Social Democrats: The centre-left collected 163 seats while the Greens won 52 seats.

Conservatives: It is still not known exactly how many seats the "dissidents" of the EPP have won but they will consolidate conservatives from Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Italy: 20 members of the Italian Democratic Party are expected to join the PES, a socialist group within the European parliament.

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