When the Federal Council is afraid of the people

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What will remain in the history of the institutional agreement between Switzerland and the EU? The five years of arduous negotiations between the two parties or the interminable procrastination of the Federal Council in this matter?

Read also the related article: The framework agreement and the late start of pro-Europeans

For several years, the Federal Council has lost its compass on European policy. It has now been more than fifteen years since he signed a major new agreement with his main economic partner. In 2004, he succeeded at the last minute in wresting a second package of bilateral agreements by promising 1 billion francs for cohesion for the future new members of the EU.

Also read: Framework agreement: the price of a possible failure

What time and opportunities have been lost since, on December 7, 2018, the Federal Council refused to initial the draft agreement finalized by its former Secretary of State Roberto Balzaretti! A very unusual consultation procedure, followed by a postponement of the decision to defeat the SVP’s initiative on the free movement of persons, then a change of the disgraced “chief negotiator” to induct Livia Leu. Paralyzed by the prospect of a defeat that some people predict will be stinging in a popular vote, the Federal Council no longer dares to move forward, as if it was more afraid of its people than of the EU. That it cares about protecting the wages of Swiss workers is perfectly legitimate. But that he is blinded by the risks of the agreement to the point of obscuring the opportunities is just as dangerous.

Finally read: Switzerland-EU: little story of a major institutional disagreement

Because the real risk is the slow death of the bilateral path, an agony that could well begin next month if Brussels no longer grants mutual recognition of medical products as part of the agreement on barriers. Trade. In order not to deteriorate the situation, Switzerland could not take countermeasures, so much its health system needs European imports. A unilateral – non-reciprocal – recognition would follow, inevitably leading to a loss of sovereignty. And not the contrary, whatever the detractors of the agreement say.

This is what the Federal Council could explain to its citizens if it had the courage to embark on a debate with tens of thousands of jobs threatened with relocation by 2030. Instead therefore, he will try to suspend the agreement, hoping not to rush the EU, for example by increasing cohesion aid. An old recipe that is strangely reminiscent of 2004, but which probably won’t work this time around.