One month after the European Union informed Switzerland that the bi-lateral procedure had reached a “dead-end”, a meeting took place on Tuesday last involving exploratory talks lasting six hours between Swiss State Secretary Yves Rossier and David O’Sullivan, the Chief Operating Officer of the EU’s diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service.
While details of the content of these talks are not known it is known that the EU is not only demanding Switzerland adopt EU law but also wants joint supervisory bodies and jurisdiction over the implementation of the bilateral accords. Knowing that the Swiss guard the matter of their sovereignty as one of great importance it would be logical to assume that the Swiss people may have something to say about whatever “agreement” is finally reached by their politicians and those of the EU.
It is worth remembering that some matters are automatically subject to a referendum and others can be instigated by the people.
Article 140 (Compulsory referendum): (1) The following shall be submitted to the vote of the People and the Cantons: a. Revisions of the Federal Constitution; b. The entry into organizations for collective security or into supranational communities; c. Federal Statutes declared urgent which have no constitutional basis and whose validity exceeds one year; such Federal Statutes must be submitted to the vote within one year after their adoption by the Federal Parliament. (2) The following shall be submitted to the vote of the People: a. Popular initiatives for total revision of the Federal Constitution; b. Popular initiatives for partial revision of the Federal Constitution in the form of a general suggestion which were rejected by the Federal Parliament; c. The question whether a total revision of the Constitution should be carried out if both Chambers disagree.
When an issue is presented to both the people (national level) and the “Stände” (cantons) for decision in a referendum, both an absolute majority of the valid votes cast and a majority of the cantons must be in favour. When a referendum is put only to the people, an absolute majority of the valid votes cast decides the issue; in this case, the cantons do not all carry the same weight. For historical reasons, six out of the total of 26 Swiss cantons (Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-Stadt (the city of Basle), Basel-Land (the area surrounding Basle), Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden) carry only “half-weight.”
c. Optional Referendum
Article 141 (Optional Referendum): (1) The following are submitted to the vote of the People at the request of 50,000 citizens entitled to vote, or of eight Cantons: a. Federal Statutes; b. Federal Statutes declared urgent with a validity exceeding one year; c. Federal decrees to the extent the Constitution or statute foresees this; d. International treaties which: 1. are of unlimited duration and may not be terminated; 2. provide for entry into an international organization; 3. involve a multilateral unification of law. (2) The Federal Parliament may submit further international treaties to optional referendum.
With the news yesterday that Switzerland was in dicussion with Norway about seeking help to avoid being forced into the EEA agreement, the talks twixt the Swiss and the EU is one to follow with the utmost interest, methinks.