Switzerland and Europe

 

Why does Switzerland keep voting "no" to membership of the European Community and the European Economic Area? One factor is a campaign of xenophobia and misinformation, led from the German-speaking cantons by Christoph Blocher. Little known outside Switzerland, this right-wing Swiss MP combines the charm of Margaret Thatcher and the subtlety of Mad Max. Here's a report on his activites from the Basler Zeitung.

 

Many French-speaking Swiss were not pleased to receive Christoph Blocher's anti-European leaflet in their Christmas post. On seeing the name "Blocher" on the front page, some threw it unread into the waste paper bin, others put it back in the post marked "Return to Sender". But some supporters of Swiss EC membership found the twenty-odd pages interesting, if not exactly convincing.

The Employers' Association of Canton Vaud issued a press statement, sarcastically thanking Blocher for his catalogue of economic successes - and then went on to list the mistakes in his leaflet. For instance, the employers were amazed that Blocher reported a 7.2% increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 1992 and 1996, when this index is known to show only a tiny increase of around 1% for that period. The answer was found by the Nouveau Quotidien, which printed a front-page article on the errors in Blocher's arguments. This one was a mistaken translation: Blocher meant the Gross National Product (GNP), which is less relevant to the state of purely domestic companies. Indeed, editor Jean-Claude Péclet continued gleefully, even the original German text was full of errors and misquotations. This was not the only statistic to have suffered from overimaginative translation.

The Nouveau Quotidien criticized also the arbitrary choice of database or financial institute. Blocher claims that foreign investment in Switzerland has risen hugely, because he chooses the particularly unsuccessful year of 1992 to make his comparisons; these investments have in fact been roughly halved since 1990. Another example: in comparing Switzerland with EC or EEA countries in order to point out its high population of foreigners or its low unemployment level, Blocher conveniently forgets Luxembourg or Liechtenstein. This error was also pointed out by Swiss President Flavio Cotti in his televised debate with Blocher.

Blocher has also angered the pro-EC camp with his portrayal of the "successes" of Switzerland's anti-EEA policy. In an appendix, he gives a list of companies which have opened in Switzerland or increased their activities there; but this list is taken more or less at random from press statements and the annual reports of the Freiburg Economic Institute. In the accompanying text, Blocher claims - based on polls and questionnaires - that these firms chose Switzerland because it was outside the EC and the EEA. In fact, some of these companies have already disappeared and others have transferred jobs to other countries. Some were astonished or incensed to have been mentioned in Blocher's leaflet.

 

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