Who’d Be Switzerland?

By Global Tax Weekly

Let’s suppose that one (you, that is, or me) was offered to be Prime Minister of a European country (and for this purpose we won’t count Russia as being European in the light of President Putin’s recent behavior) – which one would you choose? Obviously it won’t be Ukraine, because you’ll end up in prison, or Italy, because you’ll hardly be in the job long enough to get to know your chauffeur. I would probably choose somewhere civilized like Denmark, although the climate is not very nice, or perhaps Malta, where the climate is indeed very nice. But third on the list of countries I wouldn’t choose must surely be Switzerland, where the thankless job of leading the country involves a battle on at least three fronts, your external challenges coming from the USA and the European Union, and your internal enemy being the opposition Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Switzerland gets a garland this week for keeping its cool in the face of provocations from all three of these. The most dangerous of them is of course the USA, since there clearly was a considerable amount of doubtful behavior on the part of Swiss banks in regard to the overseas assets of US citizens, and they are highly vulnerable to judicial action of various types. Actually the USA has been rather measured in its behavior, while Switzerland has been quite responsive in return. Both countries have been rather grown-up, in fact, and it needn’t have been that way.

I’m not sure however that I would call the behaviour of the EU “grown-up” in relation to Switzerland. The over-muscled bureaucrats in Brussels use Switzerland as a kind of punch-bag, perhaps to demonstrate their probity to other EU interests. So all the more credit to Switzerland for staying calm. They think they haven’t got a choice, actually, or at least that’s their excuse for supping with the devil, but the truth is otherwise. Nothing forced Switzerland into an embrace with the EU, despite its geographical situation: Taiwan exists in the shadow of its Mainland oppressor, and by being clever and brave is succeeding in having independent existence. Switzerland could have turned a hard face towards the EU from the beginning, but it has chosen otherwise. Right or wrong? Hard to say, but at least you have to admire its persistent complaisance.

So that brings us to the enemy inside. Hard to say whether the SVP is right-wing or nationalistic or perverse or just plain ornery. For sure it is difficult for the Government to handle. Crackpot is a good adjective for it, looking from the outside. But Switzerland is a wide church, and the Government just sighs to itself and keeps a fixed smile on its face as the SVP comes with one hare-brained initiative after another, all of which fall at the first or second or third fence. And by design there are plenty of fences in Switzerland’s constitution.

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