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International relations ‘Today, no one wants us to join the EU’

Christoph Blocher: politician, businessman and one of Switzerland's richest men

(swissinfo.ch)

Ten years ago, Christoph Blocher, a prominent member of the Swiss People's Party, fought a tough campaign to convince the Swiss to reject membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Blocher told swissinfo that he still believes Switzerland's decision to stay out of the EEA single market was the right one.

Rejection of EEA membership led Switzerland to negotiate a series of bilateral accords with the European Union governing a wide range of issues such as trade and the free movement of people.

The first seven bilateral agreements came into force on June 1 and a second set of accords are now being negotiated.

These include the Schengen agreement which calls for the scrapping of border controls between Switzerland and the EU and provides common policies for fighting crime.

swissinfo: Do you still believe that your standpoint on the EEA back in 1992 was appropriate?

Christoph Blocher: I certainly do. Had the Swiss voted to join the EEA, we would now be a member of the European Union (EU). And with the exception of the Swiss cabinet, no one wants to join the EU. Even the business community has realised that membership would have serious disadvantages.

swissinfo: Back in 1992, you became known as the champion of the "no" to EEA membership campaign. How important was the vote for you personally?

Christoph Blocher: Yes, I did become well known during the campaign but that was not my goal. I simply understood the importance of the issue - direct democracy, our laws and the welfare of our country was at stake. That motivated me to doggedly fight for what I believed, which I did. In hindsight, I probably couldn't do it a second time; it was very exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

swissinfo: Opponents say that rejection of the EEA has resulted in the decline of Switzerland's economy.

Christoph Blocher: The economy has certainly worsened since 1992. Ten years ago we had less debt and lower taxes - conditions that would enable the economy to flourish. But our current situation has nothing to do with Switzerland's decision to reject EEA membership. It's more the result of poor political decisions, with Switzerland trying to adapt to the EU while at the same time driving up taxes.

swissinfo: What do you believe could help the Swiss economy achieve higher growth?

Christoph Blocher: Government spending has to fall, there can be no new tax increases and additional debt is out of the question. In fact, taxes should decrease. No other country has raised taxes as much as Switzerland. Apart from that I am convinced that we would improve our chances if we all stood behind Switzerland. We need to stop bowing down to other countries - no other country does that.

swissinfo: Deep down inside, Switzerland is afraid of change. Major changes, such as breaking cartels, are currently impossible ...

If the Swiss People's Party gains more support in the next elections, then the tables will turn. If that happens, other political parties will have to follow a more right-of-centre political path.

swissinfo: How should the relationship between Switzerland and the EU continue? The second round of bilateral agreements has started but they have yet to get off the ground.

Christoph Blocher: I don't believe these negotiations should continue. The cabinet is only cooperating because they want Switzerland to join the EU. The new agreements will probably lead Switzerland to join the EU's Schengen agreement and possibly lift banking secrecy. We don't need to be a part Schengen and lifting banking secrecy is out of the question.

swissinfo, Felix Münger (translated by Karin Kamp)

In brief

Christoph Blocher

1974-1978 Councillor in the town Meilen

1975-1980 Cantonal Parliamentarian in Zürich

since 1977 President of the Swiss People's Party of the canton Zurich

since 1979 Federal parliamentarian

since 1986 President of CINS (Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland)

end of infobox

EEA 1992 vote

50.3 per cent voted "no", 49.7 per cent "yes" (a difference of 23,105)
14 full and four half cantons were against, six full cantons (all French-speaking) and two half cantons were for EEA membership.
Voter turnout - at 78.7 per cent - was the second highest since the Second World War.

end of infobox


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