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Strength of anti-EU vote takes pundits by surprise

The media were surprised by the strong rejection of the "Yes to Europe" initiative


The Swiss people's overwhelming rejection of the "Yes to Europe" initiative dominated the front pages of all the main Swiss papers on Monday, with most expressing surprise at the strength of the "no" vote.

Polls had predicted that voters would reject the initiative, which called on the government to start immediate membership talks with the European Union. But the scale of the defeat was overwhelming.

The "Basler Zeitung" summed up the result succinctly with its headline - " 'Yes to Europe' becomes a clear No to Europe".

A big surprise was how unpopular the initiative was among Switzerland's traditionally pro-Europe French speakers. The leading French-language daily "Le Temps" bemoaned the defeat with the headline: "Goodbye to Europe" above a cartoon showing Switzerland's hopes of EU membership being buried.

The paper said Switzerland is now further away than ever from the EU, and in an editorial entitled "A terrible defeat", Le Temps said it was better to lose a battle than renounce one's faith in the ideal.

The paper remains convinced that Switzerland will join the EU, but says that day is now far off. "The defeat which the 'Yes to Europe' initiative suffered is one of the darkest pages in the history of the European movement in Switzerland," it added.

The Bern-based "Der Bund" echoed the view that EU membership had not only been put on the back burner, but had been made more unlikely by the strength of the No vote.

"Where do we go from here?" the paper asked, before questioning how the government would proceed with its aim of raising the matter of EU membership between 2003 and 2007.

It said that through this vote the people had made clear their views on the EU and that there would be no more pressure from below for closer ties to Brussels.

The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" saw the outcome as an endorsement of the status quo in Switzerland. It said the vote showed that Switzerland remained very sceptical about EU membership, and that voters were firmly behind the country's system of direct democracy, as opposed to discussions around a big table in Brussels.

Many of the papers commented on the fact that all parts of the country were united in rejecting the initiative and there was no sign of the usual East/West split in voting patterns. "For once no röstigraben", the Blick proclaimed in a reference to the fabled barrier between the French- and German-speaking Switzerland.

Newspapers in other European countries were also taken aback by the strength of the No vote in the referendum. "Swiss voters yesterday scuppered any chance of bringing their country into the EU within the next 10 years," Britain's "Guardian" wrote.

France's "Le Monde" was also negative about the outcome, and warned: "The size of the No vote will have implications for the continuing rapprochement with the EU after Switzerland concluded seven economic accords with the EU in 1999."

But the harshest criticism came from Germany's "Stuttgarter Zeitung". "The cliché of an Alpine fortress, guarding dirty money from organised crime and tax evaders has been strengthened," it wrote.



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