Eurosceptics often claim that Norway and Switzerland provide a model for what the UK could do if the country left the EU.
I therefore found it interesting to read in this week’s The Economist that the Swiss are starting to talk about joining again:
In Berne the still gloomier argument can also be heard that the EU is becoming a much tougher bilateral partner. Even before the recession, Swiss bank secrecy and low cantonal tax rates were under fire. The EU increasingly bundles agreements together, so that if Swiss voters were to drag their feet on one area of co-operation, they would lose out on many others.
Since the crisis hit, Switzerland has faced a baroque array of humiliations. Germany’s then finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, threatened to “take a whip” to the Swiss unless they relaxed bank secrecy. Italy’s government sent police to film alleged tax dodgers as they crossed the border. […]
The crisis has left the EU determined to seek tougher financial regulation and impose restrictions on access to the single market by foreign firms, notes Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister. “As non-members of the club, we are the ideal target for discrimination. It is a growing risk.” The bilateral path is becoming “more and more difficult,” Ms Calmy-Rey adds, both as the EU’s legal code expands and as it pushes Switzerland to sign up to near-automatic adoption of future rules
Although the UK is a larger country than Switzerland, I don’t think there’s any reason to assume the EU would treat it in a vastly different way.
Also, just like Switzerland, the UK is depending on European trade – the days are long gone when Commonwealth trade was more important.
Furthermore, a lot of British people travel to France, Spain and Italy to see the sun, and many of them buy houses there, so the UK would be in a very vulnerable position if the EU decided to put on the thumbscrews.
I still hope most of the talk about leaving the EU is just typically British grumpiness, and I am encouraged that David Cameron has stated clearly that he wants Britain to continue to be a member of the EU.
However, I think the people who dream about leaving should try to work out how that actually would work out.