‘Switzerland will participate in the process of European integration, and to that end seeks membership of the European Union.’
– Referendum proposition ‘Yes to Europe’, 4 March 2001
It is eighteen years ago now that Swiss citizens were called upon to vote on whether to join the EU or not. The greater part of that year I spent away from home, in various places in Europe, in London and Berlin, but also in Norway, Italy, France, Latvia and Estonia. In spite of which, I found myself among the 76.8 per cent of the voters who opposed joining the EU.
I was always an admirer of the European idea, and so it upsets me today that nationalist circles see Switzerland as a model for their anti-European politics. One can be in favour of Europe, and still not want to be part of it. In a similar way, I am glad there are such things as religious communities, sports clubs and glee clubs, without wanting to be in any of these associations. Perhaps it is one of the strengths of the European idea, that it is not required to be universal. Switzerland is described as an elective nation, in other words one that is not held together by a single language, a joint history, a shared culture, but by the desire of its citizens. The Swiss have learned that we all gain from our union, even if every individual does not always get what he or she wants from it. In the same way, the EU can point to its necessity by the usefulness it has for its citizens. Only on that basis can it continue to exist. Will I vote for Switzerland to join, on the occasion of some further referendum? I don’t know. I’d have to think about it. But I can say that, today, just as I did eighteen years ago, I want the EU to grow and prosper as an elective union, and for nationalism to disappear forever from the European psyche.