hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

No Power to the People

Geneva, Switzerland. 11 February. Such is the wrath of power!  Following Sunday’s vote here in Switzerland to re-impose restrictions on free movement of peoples and since I posted my blog yesterday I have been inundated by emails and texts from the more EU at all and any cost lobby and members of the European establishment.  They have routinely denounced the Swiss accusing the people here of xenophobia, racism and stupidity or a combination of all three.
Some of the emails have been downright hysterical.  A few suggested that any block on the road to further European integration will see the start of a long slide back to general European war.  What utter alarmist tosh!
Yesterday I spent part of the day talking to people and monitoring the Swiss Press.  Yes, some of those who voted for the restrictions are clearly xenophobic and I am sure not a few are plain racist.  An examination shows a clear split between town and country and between the Swiss German, Swiss Italian and Swiss Romande cantons.  Equally, many of the votes appear to have come from across the political spectrum which suggests many cast their vote because of very legitimate concerns about identity, accountability and trust.  .
What seems to have been the most powerful motive for many was a sense Switzerland is sliding towards EU membership by the back door – all the obligations with few of the benefits.  
The simple truth is that millions of people across Europe see the EU like some form of giant jellyfish hovering over their lives with dangling tentacles that ensnare them in ever more onerous European regulation.  They instinctively feel that harmonisation is leading to de-democratisation. 
Given the Eurozone crisis they believe the EU makes them poorer, less secure, less free and ever more subject to the whims of a political and bureaucratic elite over whom they have no control. 
In fact, much of that is untrue but by no means all of it.  The EU does excellent work protecting people across Europe from the excesses of unscrupulous government and rapacious external states.  And, there is no question that failed national politicians too often blame Brussels for their own incompetence.
However, rather than dismiss such concerns as the raving reflections of a bunch of Swiss backwoodsmen and women European leaders must start to engage we the European peasantry and our concerns.  Sadly, there are too many high apostles of European integration actively out seeking their European federal fantasy. 
One of the many messages from this complex vote is that the EU should return to basics and focus simply on ways to support the member-states to make Europeans wealthier, safer and more efficient - period . 
It is the twin issues of identity and accountability that has driven many perfectly decent Swiss people to vote the way they did.  Those twin issues are the core of concerns of millions of Europeans across the Continent.
The European elite spent yesterday acting true to type uttering muffled but clear threats about the dire consequences Switzerland now faces because of its democracy.  Instead, they should come down off Mount Brulumpus, get out amongst the peoples of Europe, and start to really listen to their concerns.  Only then can they explain how and why the EU is good for all Europeans.  Indeed, if there was one unifying factor in the Swiss vote it was the rejection of elite arrogance and indifference.
Like it or not the Swiss people voted the way they did.  And even though Switzerland is not an EU member the vote matters.  Instead I fear it will be dismissed as irrelevant and/or inconvenient.  There is of course a way of avoiding such annoyances.  Simply scrap democracy and never ask the people anything.  Democracy is after all so messy and causes power such inconvenience.  When you in the elite do that could you at least answer one question for me; for what did my grandfather risk his life for in World War Two?
Julian Lindley-French

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