Charlemagne: Switzerland’s crossbow

THE Swiss have had a reputation for doughty independence since the days of William Tell. He was made to shoot an apple off his son’s head with his crossbow; in revenge, he killed the tyrannical overlord and ignited a successful revolt against the Habsburgs. This week the bolt struck at the European Union, when the Swiss voted for restrictions on Europe’s much-cherished free movement of people. To surging anti-EU and anti-immigrant parties, the referendum on February 9th was a victory for Switzerland’s “braggart spirit of freedom”, as Friedrich Schiller called it in his play about Tell. The Swiss government and business elite have been transfixed by a decision both opposed. The European establishment is scrambling to respond.Switzerland is a member neither of the EU nor of the looser European Economic Area (EEA) that includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Nevertheless a web of more than 100 bilateral treaties binds the Swiss tightly into the “four freedoms” of movement underpinning the EU’s single market: of goods, services, people and capital. The repudiation of any one of these puts in question Switzerland’s ability to benefit from the others. And the vote…

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