Switzerland has formally withdrawn her long-standing application to join the European Union (EU), as only “a few lunatics” now want to be involved with the bloc. The verdict comes just one week before Britons go to the polls to decide on whether to retain their membership of the political union.
Twenty-seven members of the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house, voted in favour of cancelling the application, against 13 who opposed the motion. Two abstained, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung has reported.
The vote ratifies an earlier vote held by Parliamentarians in the lower house in March, which saw the motion to withdraw the application agreed to with an overwhelming majority of 126 in favour, 46 against.
In response to the federal vote, Switzerland’s foreign minister Didier Burkhalter confirmed that his country will now give formal notice to the EU to consider the Swiss application officially withdrawn.
Switzerland’s application to join the European Economic Area, the precursor to the EU, was lodged in 1992, but a referendum held the same year on the matter saw the Swiss people narrowly turned down the prospect of closer ties to the bloc, putting the application on ice.
It has never been seriously revived in the intervening 24 years, prompting Mr. Burkhalter to previously comment that the application has long been considered invalid.
Nonetheless, Thomas Minder, an independent representative said he was keen to “close the topic fast and painlessly,” adding that only “a few lunatics” still wished to join the EU.
His colleague Hannes Germann of the Swiss People’s Party compared the symbolic nature of the vote to Iceland’s decision to drop its own application in 2015. “Iceland had the courage to withdrew their application for membership and no volcano erupted,” he joked.
And Damian Mueller of the Free Democratic Party said it was necessary “to make a clean sweep”.
But others have argued that it was a pointless discussion as the EU no longer considers Switzerland a candidate country. Filippo Lombardi of the Christian Democratic People’s Party said that it was “not very clever to discuss it once again,” calling the debate about Switzerland’s accession at this stage “a bit ridiculous”.
Although Switzerland has never been a part of the EU, it is a member of the single market. Switzerland is also one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$ 80,675 in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. Britain’s GDP per capita in the same year was nearly half as much at US$ 43,771.
Christoph Blocher, the Swiss former MP who led the charge to keep Switzerland out of the EU in 1992, has told The Spectator that Project Fear was deployed in that referendum, too. One politician predicted at the time that if it didn’t join, within five years it would be begging to do so “on its knees”.
In fact, those predictions never came to pass. “The Monday after the Sunday, the Bourse rose,” Mr. Blocher recalls.
But he agrees that Britain wouldn’t get the same deal as the Swiss post-Brexit: “No, you’d get a much better deal.”
His conclusion: “I think if you [Britain] leave the EU it will be very good for you.”