Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU) mainly because of its long-standing tradition of neutrality and sovereignty. Switzerland prides itself as a neutral country and has a long history of controlling its own sovereignty, especially after fighting hard to get it.
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Switzerland’s neutrality is deeply embedded in the culture and dates back to 1515. It is something that the Swiss hold true and believes they might lose when joining the EU because decisions on military and conflicts are outside of their control.
Since the formation of Switzerland in 1848, and even earlier, the initial joining of the three founding cantons in 1291, the country has very much wanted to control its own destiny. And joining the EU would mean giving up control in various aspects of politics, life and government that most Swiss are not happy to do.
Switzerland actually has been in a free trade agreement with the EU since 1972. However, a far stronger set of bilateral agreements were signed on 21 June 1999. These agreements cover a whole swathe of things including:
- Free movement of persons
- Technical barriers to trade (Mutual Recognition Agreement–MRA)
- Public procurement markets
- Overland transport
- Civil aviation
So, although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it behaves as one in many ways.
Switzerland officially joined the Schengen Area on 12 December 2008. This agreement predominantly affects visas and makes it a lot easier for people to travel within Europe on one visa. However, the agreement also covers things like policing and various legal aspects between the countries.
In the years following the signing of the bilateral agreements the number of foreigners coming to Switzerland increased significantly. This has led to the rise of such parties as the SVP as a result of nationalistic feelings in the country. Which honestly, seems to be happening everywhere in the world at the moment.
However, although many of the initiatives from the SVP have failed over the years since the bilateral agreement, feelings still run strong and new initiatives are always coming to control immigration and asylum seekers.
Current Problems With The EU
More recently, Switzerland has been in ongoing talks with the EU to create a deeper treaty. However, talks collapsed in 2021 and things have become a little nastier. The bilateral agreements are potentially in jeopardy and the EU has retaliated by cutting some of the funding to Swiss Universities in the Horizon Europe scheme.
It seems to be a very complex, ongoing and difficult thing to agree upon and hopefully the above will help you understand Switzerland’s hesitancy on joining the EU.