GENEVA – May is the month of Europe, celebrating the anniversary of the creation of the Council of Europe on May 5, and of the European Union on May 9.
It is the opportunity to commemorate a man who played a determining role in Switzerland’s prosperity. This man was Robert Schumann, the French foreign minister who, on May 9, 1950 – with the declaration bearing his name – laid the foundations of peace and prosperity in Europe by putting an end to the conflicts that were tearing apart the continent.
By inviting former enemies France and Germany to manage their steel and coal industries jointly, Schumann hoped to achieve a gradual political integration of European countries by creating common interests.
Ironically, this "small steps" policy is the model adopted by Switzerland to "elude" European membership. The New Swiss European Movement (NOMES) believes that our country was right to develop a special relationship with Europe, but that it should fully embrace the objective of membership so as to achieve a harmonious integration into the EU. We believe that Switzerland should join the EU standing on its feet, rather than on its knees – as some European countries were forced to do after grave economic crises. Our history proves that the EU serves our national interest.
The EU has been very beneficial to our country. The 60 years of peace it has given the continent has guaranteed a stability that allowed our economic actors to thrive. It has also made it possible for us to allocate fewer resources to arming ourselves and more resources to social progress. Let's not forget that before 1950, our country was at risk of complete destruction, at the whim of nationalistic and imperial powers.
Europe’s integration of countries from the Eastern bloc after the collapse of the Soviet Union was inherent to this process, allowing the end of the Cold War and to the East-West rift, which were great factors of instability on the continent.
Now that banking secrecy is over...
The huge European market, dominated by the principles of free trade, allows our companies to export in colossal numbers. Even the euro – so reviled today – benefits our country, which does not have to struggle any more against the devaluations of 17 European currencies to maintain its exports.
It is important to point out that the current debt issues that plague EU member-states are the result of the failings of national sovereignty, which encouraged local demagogue politicians to ignore the deficit and debt break criteria defined by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 – before the Swiss debt break was implemented.
The end of Switzerland’s banking secrecy and preferential corporate tax regime for foreign multinationals – which were for a long time the country’s major assets – should encourage us to rethink the nature of our relationship with the EU.
By joining the European Union, Switzerland would not have to worry about blockades and other forms of blackmail – as was often the case during bilateral negotiations. It could focus all its energy on creating favorable and durable framework conditions for its economy. And as a member of the EU, Switzerland would at last have the possibility to influence decisions in its favor, as the other small countries within the EU have been able to.
Faced with the rise of great powers, Switzerland cannot afford to go it alone any more. "Nothing lasting is created when things are too easy," warned Robert Schuman when he described his vision of a united Europe. This has never been truer.
* The authors are members of the New Swiss European Movement (NOMES)