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Two-decade fight for neutrality goes on

Hans Fehr (left) at a press conference with People's Party president Ueli Maurer Keystone

Fighting for a neutral and independent Switzerland is the raison d’être of an isolationist organisation that sees itself as the vanguard of Swiss sovereignty.

This content was published on April 29, 2005 - 16:10
swissinfo.ch

The Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (CINS) held its 20th annual meeting in Bern on Saturday.

Top of the agenda at the weekend meeting was the group’s opposition to the Schengen/Dublin accords governing closer cooperation with the European Union on asylum and crime.

The Swiss will decide whether the country should sign up to Schengen/Dublin – part of a package of accords signed last year between Bern and Brussels – during a nationwide vote in June.

The CINS was set up in 1986 following a successful campaign against Swiss membership of the United Nations. In a vote in June of that year, more than 75 per cent of the electorate rejected a proposal which called on Switzerland to join the world body.

The group was founded by Christoph Blocher. Today he is a cabinet minister, but for two decades he was the popular figurehead of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and leading light of the CINS.

Target: Brussels

The CINS led opposition to Swiss membership of the European Economic Area, which was rejected by voters in 1992.

The group now has its eye on thwarting both Schengen/Dublin and a proposal to extend an existing accord on the free movement of people to cover citizens from the new EU member states.

The latter will be put to a vote in September.

Working with the Swiss People’s Party and like-minded allies, the CINS helped to collect enough signatures to force nationwide ballots on both issues.

"Swiss citizens will be taken to the cleaners [if Switzerland signs up to Schengen]," Hans Fehr, the current head of the CINS, told swissinfo.

"Everyone says it’s about security, but in reality it’s about the dismantling and elimination of border controls, which will mean that anybody can get into the country. If you compromise on security the Swiss will also lose out on the job market. That is unfortunately wrong-headed federal politics."

Fehr, who is a People’s Party parliamentarian, said closer ties with the EU would lead to a steady erosion of Swiss neutrality.

"We want to fight so that a neutral, independent Switzerland continues to exist, one that can deal with its affairs as it sees fit," he said.

"We were the motor for forcing a vote on Schengen. I’m sure we can convince a majority of Swiss voters to say no to it."

"Fighting force"

According to its statutes, the CINS is not affiliated to any political party, but well-known hardliners from the Zurich chapter of the People’s Party set the tone.

Fehr describes the group as a "fighting force, a lobby that cuts across party lines to assert respect for the federal constitution".

He believes that official government policy - particularly when it comes to forging closer ties with the EU – goes against the constitution, which he says obliges parliamentarians to defend and strengthen the freedom, independence and neutrality of Switzerland.

"We Swiss citizens need an independent Switzerland, Europe needs an independent Switzerland, and Schengen is unfortunately the first step towards EU membership," said Fehr.

Bern-based political analyst Hans Hirter says the CINS is a forum for Swiss who do not feel their concerns are being heard by the main political parties.

"To me the CINS is a place for people who have strong isolationist views and who... believe that their worries are not being addressed by politicians," said Hirter.

He adds that the group only tends to come to the fore – and snatch the headlines – when there are issues it is interested in defending.

"It is not a 'fighting force’ that is always out there making its presence known."

Key facts

Christoph Blocher headed the CINS until May 2004. He was replaced by Hans Fehr.
The CINS fought against UN membership in the mid-1980s and against Switzerland joining the European Economic Area in the early 1990s.
The CINS held its 20th annual gathering in Bern on Saturday.

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