TRADE, justice and free movement of people are at the heart of Britain and Switzerland’s relations with EU. Juncker’s Swiss visit failed on immigration and European Court of Justice as no progress is being made on them for the last three years. But Brussels is trying to deepen economic ties with Bern because Switzerland is the third largest trading partner of the EU. In fact, the Swiss-EU bilateral deal is a violation of the EU’s Four Freedoms policy comprising freedom of movement of goods, workers, services and capital. Juncker traded freedom of movement of workers for 1.3bn Francs Swiss aid for the EU. In return, Leuthard secured the future of Swiss-EU bilateral trade for years to come. The Swiss-EU bilateral trade was more than €333bn in 2016.
The deal went ahead despite the joint statement of the 27 member states in June 2016 in which they said that any agreement a third country will have to be based on balance of rights and obligations and access to the single market requires acceptance of all four freedoms. In the UK, the Brexit supporters are watching the Swiss-EU relations very carefully. Switzerland refused to join the EU 25 years ago. But since then more than 100 bilateral deals have been signed between Switzerland and the EU. Swiss Parliament passed a bill in 2016 to save economic ties with the EU and keep its conservative base happy and allow unemployed Swiss to work in the EU. May is also seeking a similar bilateral deal with EU. She has allowed 3 million EU workers to stay in the UK in exchange for one and a half million British workers in the EU but doesn’t want to open borders and accept immigrants to appease conservative voters. She is trying to keep access to single market of the EU without upholding EU’s four freedoms. Although Juncker has strongly rejected media speculations on drawing parallels between Brexit and Swiss deal. But insiders claim that a deal will be made ultimately. The reports of May planning to pay £3bn as EU-Brexit divorce bill is part of the efforts to save combined UK-EU £546bn trade. The UK has a £60bn trade deficit with the EU.
According to a recent survey, 52 percent Swiss voters opposed scrapping of free movement agreement with the EU. The Brexit vote was a close call (51.9% voted in favor of those who came to vote constituting 37.5 percent of total electorate). In UK, the closure of European Cultural Center is going to cost jobs and businesses. But both May and Leuthard are protecting the interests of the conservative right wing anti-immigrant voters at the cost of the average workers rights, the EU freedoms and national economies. It brings us to wider question of the EU role in jobs, politics, transparency and rule of law. If Brussels will put the EU’s single market on sale through bilateral agreements then how does it expect the EU other member states to uphold their obligations to their workers, human rights, the ECJ and rule of law.
Similarly, if states fail to protect common interests of the workers, collect taxes from the multinationals and stop corrupt practices in financial sectors then who will? The workers have been turned into slaves in Europe and their systematic exploitation has become a serious human rights issue. Courts, media and other watchdogs are hesitant to expose poor conditions of workers in private businesses. Corruption is rife in the UK. May is silent on Paradise Papers, off shore tax havens high utility prices, privatization, housing and NHC. According to the British media, London has become center of international money laundering. Half of London is owned by Russian oligarchs but May is headed to pledge billions to secure East European States against Putin instead of spending it on homeless in UK.
The Swiss banks are laden with stolen money. The bulk of its taken by the corrupt leaders and their family members from poor countries’ public funds, tax and aid money meant for education, healthcare, pensions, food subsidies, transport, sanitation, law and order, policing, judiciary, democracy and improving life of ordinary people. The Swiss government is not ready to return it on different pretexts. If leaders like May, Leuthard and Juncker will continue to play politics with the core values of their institutions and mandates while poor, handicapped, pensioners, homeless and jobless continue to suffer then the public will lose faith in democracy, trust in the institutions and hope. Going by the Swiss deal, it will not be a surprise if May also gets a bilateral deal in the EU Summit in December in exchange for a few billion pounds. But it will be at the cost of more fragmented Europe, disappointed workers and weakened economy.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.