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Switzerland And The European Union Essay

3536 words - 14 pages

Officially known as the Swiss Confederation, Switzerland is a federal parliamentary republic comprised of 26 cantons, which represent four languages and a population of just over eight million . Switzerland is well known for its small landmass yet high standard of living, as well as its banking system and adherence to traditional Swiss culture. While the state is autonomous, it is a part of the Schengen Area unlike all EU members, and remains outside of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), as it became the sole EFTA member to reject membership by referendum in 1992 . Despite this, Switzerland maintains a staunch economic relationship with members of the EU through a series of bilateral agreements involving trade, free movement of people, agriculture and taxation among others. These provisions between countries provide an increasingly interdependent European continent characterized by trade agreements, free movement of Swiss-EU citizens and a single European market.

A recent referendum against mass immigration has passed through Switzerland’s direct democracy by a majority of just 50.3% , effectively nullifying the bilateral agreements that were reached with the EU in 1999. The referendum is binding in Switzerland and requires the Swiss Federal Council to produce legislation within three years of the vote. As a result, officials within the EU have voiced their regrets regarding the outcome of the ballot, and are carefully considering re-evaluating their relations with Switzerland. The issue of Switzerland’s proposed cap on immigration is a very recent matter, and the results of the referendum will likely be a catalyst for changes in EU policies. This paper will examine steps that the European Union could take to approach the referendum, as well as existing Swiss-EU agreements, to ensure continued trade relations and economic cooperation between parties. By amending existing agreements and re-negotiating specific terms, the EU can be effective in respecting the sovereignty of Switzerland as a non-member of the EU, while strengthening the partnership shared with the Swiss and the 28 members of the European Union.
The contents of the Swiss-EU bilateral agreement pertaining to the free movement of persons states that citizens of Switzerland and of the member states of the European Union have the right to ‘freely choose their country of employment and residence within the national territories of the contracting states parties’ . This right is conditional on valid employment or proof of financial independence and health coverage . Even with the agreement in place, Switzerland has proven to be less than enthusiastic about the influx of immigrants since 1999, and has invoked a safeguard clause that restricts immigration against EU member states, amid the expansion of the EU in the past ten years. The effects of the clause institutes specified quotas for EU nationals , which is within Switzerland’s right to exercise as...

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