Faced with the harsh reaction in Brussels to the Swiss voters’ decision to limit immigration, rightwing spokesman Christoph Mörgeli is actually pleased. “This way Switzerland’s entry to the EU is looking all the more remote,” says the politician.
On February 9, voters approved a move by the Swiss People’s Party to reintroduce quotas and have a national preference when filling job vacancies.
It also stipulates that Switzerland will have to renegotiate its bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people within three years or revoke it.
swissinfo.ch: Reaction from Brussels came faster and louder than expected by many. For example, negotiations for new treaties on the electricity market, the financial market and institutional matters have been put on hold. Talks about the Horizon 2020 research programme and Erasmus+ have been halted. Does this bother you?
Christoph Mörgeli: No, because now we are seeing the true face of the European Union. This is a stroke of good fortune for Switzerland. The prospect of us joining the EU is looking more remote than ever these days, because our citizens don’t appreciate that kind of behaviour from the EU. Switzerland is definitely not a colony of the EU – though we are being treated that way at the moment.
swissinfo.ch: Your party and its leading figure, Christoph Blocher, are saying that Switzerland should show some backbone in Brussels, adopting an “all or nothing” stance – that is, negotiations on everything or nothing, using the agreement on taxation of interest income as a pawn. But even State Secretary Jacques de Watteville thinks this stance is unrealistic, since the OECD standard for automatic exchange of information is due to come into effect in a year.
C.M.: Switzerland is a sovereign state. The EU seems to have forgotten that – and so has our government and bureaucracy. Ambassador de Watteville, like most of our senior bureaucrats, probably favours joining the EU. And the government, notably Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, favours automatic exchange of information.
But we are going to resist that fiercely with our popular initiative to protect privacy. We want to maintain banking secrecy within the country at least, and we intend to find a majority to do it.
swissinfo.ch: Is Switzerland facing a political crisis? The centre parties are talking about “de-escalation” as regards Brussels.
C.M.: That’s reasonable – it’s not the time to get all worked up. But it would not be smart just to accept the cherry-picking approach of the EU. The EU is saying, “here we’ll negotiate, and there we won’t”. And it always involves packages. That was also the earlier view of the EU. So we can’t just say, here the interests of the EU are at stake, so we’ll give in. That’s not how to negotiate.
swissinfo.ch: The government intends to come up with draft legislation for immigration quotas this year. Are you happy with this rapid response from them?
C.M.: We are happy that the government is doing the right thing. The interests of Switzerland lie in being able to manage immigration independently. For example, Liechtenstein has no mass immigration, because even as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) it demanded and got quotas. What the EU conceded to an EEA member, it should certainly allow a non-member.
swissinfo.ch: How does the People’s Party see its responsibilities now as the winner of this vote?
C.M.: It is no longer up to the People’s Party to put the [new] article in the constitution. Given the majority of voters and cantons, government and parliament have received a clear mandate to do this. With the people’s “yes”, it’s not just the People’s Party that is taking responsibility, but the whole people – fortunately.
swissinfo.ch: Still on the winners’ responsibilities – what do you think of Blocher’s pronouncement that French-speaking Switzerland and city-dwellers have always shown less patriotic feelings about Switzerland?
C.M.: I don’t understand why people should get worked up about it. The Ticino minister Giuseppe Motta once said: “It is German[-speaking] Switzerland that founded Switzerland. One of the most remarkable advantages of German[-speaking] Switzerland is its studied calm, its demand to weigh the pros and cons of every matter.” And of course the big cities with their leftist majorities and their mass awarding of citizenship have less understanding of freedom and independence. On the other hand, the central Swiss cantons can look back on 723 years of confederation.
swissinfo.ch: What are going to be the likely results of your victory in this vote? Will Blocher be back in the cabinet in 2015?
C.M.: It’s been an incredible comeback for him – 20 years after the victory on the EEA – to have achieved this new milestone in European policy. It is a tremendously important decision, because the Swiss people have said once again, after so many years: “We are a sovereign nation, we are not a member of the EU or the single market, and we don’t want to be one, either.” It is certainly not nice to be discriminated against, but Switzerland should never join a group that discriminates against others like that. The world is only a liveable place if small countries have room to breathe. Blocher would be the right man to put forward that view in the cabinet.
swissinfo.ch: Regarding the single European market: if Brussels walks away from the existing bilateral agreements, Swiss companies will have to negotiate export rules with every single EU country. So bureaucratic barriers, which your party criticises, would actually increase, wouldn’t they?
C.M.: The business lobbies have not yet realised that they were one of the big winners in the vote on February 9. Because as a result the “supporting measures” are going to collapse. These were the blackmail demands of the left wing and the unions. The private sector gave in on this, and was ready to give in on a lot more.
Now that’s all gone. Those were the real bureaucratic barriers – those were the costs incurred by all the monitoring that had to be done in businesses. Compared to that, anything else is less of a burden.
swissinfo.ch: If the “supporting measures” are done away with, won’t people who vote for your party be threatened by competition from foreign workers who come in on quotas and may work for low wages?
C.M.: No, because we as politicians will not go for any cheap mass quotas. The point of quotas is to maintain quality. The Berlin Philharmonic isn’t going to hire its trumpeters from some Swiss small-town brass band. We’ve got to make sure that those who do come here add value. That’s in the interest of any state.
(Translated from German by Terence MacNamee), swissinfo.ch