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Opinion Rightwing win: Swiss ‘sense of successful isolation’

The European Union’s ineffectiveness in dealing with various crises coupled with economic and political stability at home may have led to the swing to the right in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, writes Daniel Warner.

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By Daniel Warner

What were the issues that led to the success of the right-wing parties? The first must be the fear of mass migration. Already in the February 9, 2014 vote for a controversial anti-immigration initiative, the Swiss people had shown their fear of a mass influx of migrants. Recent scenes of hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria and marching northward to Germany only increased apprehensions about the small alpine country being overwhelmed.

The People’s Party’s mantra of strong nationalism easily resonated in the face of the chaos in the corridor from the South northward. The fact that many fleeing the war in Syria were Muslims confirmed the anxiety manifested in a November 2009 referendumexternal link in which a constitutional amendment banning the construction of new minarets was approved by 57.5% of the participating voters.

Dr. Daniel Warner is Assistant Director for International Relations at DCAF, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. He joined DCAF in 2011 after a long career at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

(courtesy of the author)

The second major issue was the relationship between Switzerland and Europe. This also followed the trend of the February 2014 vote. By a small majority of the popular vote, Swiss citizens in 2014 insisted that the government had to renegotiate its bilateral agreement with the European Union (EU) on the free movement of people within three years or revoke it.

The importance of this vote was to threaten other bilateral agreements with the EU. Negotiations on the free movement of people as well as other bilateral issues have been stalled since that vote and are a major concern for the government and the population.

Growing nationalist fervor

The People’s Party has consistently opposed stronger ties between Switzerland and the EU. Sunday’s vote reflected growing dissatisfaction with closer ties, obviously influenced by the failures of the EU to deal decisively with the Greek crisis and growing nationalist fervor such as in the United Kingdom and the Visegrad countries – Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Sunday’s vote was obviously anti-Europe.

Switzerland is located in the middle of Western Europe. Although not a member of the European Union, its major trading partner, its politics are highly influenced by what goes on around it. The migration crisis and the failure of the European Union to efficiently deal with the financial crisis in Greece have contributed to Switzerland’s sense of successful isolation. In Switzerland, unemployment is well below neighboring countries; there is a stability that contrasts with the chaos in many other parts of the world. Sunday’s right-wing vote was a conservative vote to keep the status quo. After all, in politics as in sports, the first rule has always been: “Never change a winning game.” In a world of accelerating time and events, in a world of increasing complex interdependence, it remains to be seen if that conservative, isolationist posture will be sufficient for Switzerland to thrive.

Change, which drives all successful enterprises, seems limited to the business sphere. “The politics of perpetual fear,” in David Remnick’s term, continues to be an important motor for politics.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Opinion series publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. Over time, the selection of articles will present a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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