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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Swiss citizens vote against renegotiating key treaties with EU

Voters opposed the “self-determination” initiative that argues for the Swiss constitution to take precedence over international law

While Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, the 28-country bloc is by far its biggest trading partner. Reuters
While Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, the 28-country bloc is by far its biggest trading partner. Reuters

Switzerland’s electorate overwhelmingly rejected a plan that could have caused a worsening of relations with the European Union by forcing the government in Bern to renegotiate international treaties.

According to a projection on broadcaster SRF, 67 per cent of voters apposed the “self-determination” initiative, which argued for the Swiss constitution to take precedence over international law, potentially triggering revisions of treaties if there are conflicts. Polls had indicated a likely rejection.

While Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, the 28-country bloc is by far its biggest trading partner and ties are governed by a complex set of bilateral agreements ranging from civil aviation to agriculture and immigration.

Sunday’s plebiscite comes just as the Swiss are seeking to ensure continued recognition for their stock market under the EU’s MiFID II financial market regulations. The current equivalence expires at the end of December.

Bern and Brussels are looking to cement their relationship via a framework deal, which has been four years in the making. Yet talks ran aground due to a disagreement about labour market access in Switzerland, and the EU has made continued recognition of the Swiss stock market contingent on progress on the political front.

A “no” vote would have been a rare setback for the anti-immigrant, euro-skeptic Swiss People’s Party, which rose to prominence by fiercely campaigning against EU membership in a 1992 referendum. The SVP put forward Sunday’s initiative in response to a decision by the country’s top court back in 2012 regarding the European Convention on Human Rights. The SVP was also behind the 2014 plebiscite to re-impose quotas on new immigrants from EU countries, which the parliament in Bern later watered down to protect the economy.

Supporters of the “self-determination” initiative had argued it would protect Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, which they believe is crucial for the country’s success. Opponents, including the government and business lobby groups, said it would undermine the close economic ties the country enjoys with its neighbors and jeopardize its much-vaunted stability, which would be negative for the economy.