Switzerland: a model for Europe?

Small Switzerland might have lessons for its mighty neighbour swissinfo C Helmle

Swiss style Federalism may be the best solution for European Union to expand and strengthen its political structure.

This content was published on August 22, 2002 - 14:50

Fifty years ago, the EU founders Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman considered the idea of a federal state similiar to Switzerland.

And the idea has once again gained prominence as Brussels considers the future of the EU. Last December saw the creation of the Convention on the future of Europe, designed to pave the way for institutional reform by 2004.

From its inception and for decades thereafter, the EU was regarded as an association of economic interests, but it is now increasingly veering towards political union. EU members must integrate 12 new members by 2004 and support their absorption into the EU community institutions.

Political clout

In addition, the EU must also consider ways to bolster its political clout on the world stage.

European political leaders such as Joschka Fischer, Jacques Chirac and Vaclav Havel have long referred to Switzerland as a model for Europe, drawing on parallels between Switzerland and the EU in terms of structure and the integration of people.

In both cases, economic interests led to a union being forged between sovereign states to create a common market, to break down border regulations and duties, and to create a single currency.

Political development has also evolved along similar lines, in terms of the voluntary union of states, reaching a balance between different members states and the creation of a power sharing system according to the principle of subsidiarity.

Integration

Switzerland is also viewed as an example for the EU in terms of the way it has managed to integrate the different cultures, languages and religions within its borders.

However, in order to evolve along federal lines, the EU would have to centralise some of its powers, to allow for the establishment of a federal constitution and government, a dual-chamber parliament and new laws - proposals which have already met with considerable resistance from numerous governments and member states.

The path to federalism is still a long one. The EU is evolving fast, but cannot go faster than the people who live in it, who need to give their consent to federalism.

So for the time being, Switzerland is set to remain an ideal, rather than a working model for the EU.

By Armando Mombelli

EU summary

Swiss style federalism could be a model for the EU as it expands and prepares for institutional reform, with 12 new members by 2004.

There are economic and political parallels between Switzerland and the EU and Switzerland is seen as an example of multicultural integration.

A more federal EU would need a federal constitution, government, two-chamber parliament and new laws, which is resisted by some countries.

People would also have to give their consent, so there is a long way before the EU becomes federal.

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