Swexit isn’t a word but it should be


Alpine heights. Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash


“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
– George Orwell

Swexit sounds a whole lot more exciting than Brexit but it isn’t really. Switzerland has never been a member of the European Union (EU) so there was nothing really to exit, and certainly not in the stormy way of Britain.

But, leave it to the Swiss to concoct a fondue. And for the EU to manage a hot mess.

When the UK voted for Brexit in 2016, the European bloc decided it needed to be firm with Switzerland that had long enjoyed an arrangement with the EU that Boris Johnson would probably describe as cake-ist. They had their cake and ate it too. Switzerland has 120 sectoral agreements with the EU but in 2014, it decided by referendum that it wouldn’t allow freedom of movement. That’s a core principle for the EU but in the past seven years, nothing pleasing has come of negotiations. In recent weeks, including during a visit to Brussels by Guy Parmelin, president of the Swiss Confederation, it has become increasingly clear the Swiss don’t plan to ratify a provisional agreement schlepped across to Bern by Brussels.

Europe is pretty narked off. On May 11, EU foreign ministers discussed the whole affair and soon after the meeting, EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic did the diplomatic equivalent of shaking his head. He said that while the EU was prepared to continue to negotiate, a failure to agree everything with speed and expediency would lead to the inevitable “erosion” of bilateral relations.

The Germans and the French, Switzerland’s immediate neighbours, also sound incensed. German minister Michael Roth read the riot act on Swiss public television SRF. Relations with Switzerland are extremely important, he said, but “whoever wants to benefit from the single market must also play by its rules”. France’s foreign minister Clément Beaune spoke about the importance of “protecting the [EU] single market” and added that while Europe was open for discussions, the ball was in the court of “our Swiss friends”.

Meanwhile, also on May 11, Switzerland’s 26 cantons declared they didn’t want a deal “at any price” and their country had already made “important concessions”. Compromise with the EU is strongly opposed by Switzerland’s biggest political party, the rightwing populist SVP. The country’s other political groups also have problems with parts of the draft accord.

It all sounds very Brexit but it isn’t, of course. Switzerland wasn’t even part of the EU. That said, Swexit is definitely a thing.