EU humiliated: Why Switzerland rejected membership as ‘only lunatics join’
Politicians in Switzerland voted to withdraw the country’s application for membership of the EU, just one week before the UK voted to leave the bloc in 2016. Thomas Minder, counsellor for Schaffhausen state and an active promoter of the concept of ‘Swissness,’ said at the time he was eager to “close the topic fast and painlessly” as only “a few lunatics” may want to join the EU now. Switzerland began the application process 14 years prior in 1992, and all the work towards the goal was dashed as a total of 27 members of parliament’s upper house voted to invalidate the application, backing up an earlier decision by the lower house.
Only 13 senators voted against while two abstained.
Swiss media quoted the country’s Foreign Minister at the time as claiming he would give Brussels formal notice.
Hannes Germann, also representing Schaffhausen, compared the symbolic importance to Iceland’s decision to drop its membership bid in 2015.
He said: “Iceland had the courage and withdrew the application for membership, so no volcano erupted.”
Despite the process having dragged out for well over a decade, Swiss politics had barely been impacted.
Switzerland had a referendum on whether to join the European Economic Area where the country narrowly decided to reject the idea.
This provoked the Swiss Government to suspend the application for EU membership.
Filippo Lombardi, from the Christian Democratic People’s Party, said it was “not very clever to discuss it once again” and called the whole thing “a bit ridiculous”.
Switzerland, never a member of the EU, shares free trade with the union and free movement of people as part of the Schengen zone.
The bloc would suffer a second humiliation within a month when the British public voted to leave the EU in June 2016.
The process has been marred by chaos and stalemate as Prime Minister Theresa May tried and failed three times to get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.
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In July last year, Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister and – after a string of defeats in Parliament – called for a general election.
He secured an 80-seat majority while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party suffered its worst electoral defeat since 1935.
After the UK left the EU on January 31, trade talks between London and Brussels started.
The key dispute so far has seen the bloc’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier demand continued EU access to British fishing waters in exchange for access to European markets.
This has created a dilemma for Mr Johnson and his government, as the Prime Minister wants to take back independent control of UK fishing grounds.
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