The Swiss Example

BY JAMIE FOSTER

Switzerland is coming to the end of its tether in relation to the failed attempt to negotiate an economic deal with the EU. The Swiss believe that the EU bureaucrats are too dogmatic in their demands to be able to come to a deal. A failure to reach a deal could mean that Swiss researchers are blocked from the common market. As a result the Swiss may be looking for new markets including Britain after Brexit. If even Switzerland can’t come to a deal with the EU then it is not surprising we are having trouble coming to a deal with them. The EU is simply not designed to make deals easy.

The structure of the EU is largely the problem. Putting up bureaucrats to negotiate the interests of 27 countries was always bound to lead to problems. The fact that they are bound to immovable principles like free movement of people only adds to the difficulties. It is impossible to negotiate if the meat of the negotiation touches on their immovable principles. It is equally impossible to negotiate if one of the 27 countries decides that it is opposed to a point in the negotiation. By agreeing with each other about a particular point the 27 come to the view that that point must be right. Take the backstop for instance. The EU are convinced that it must be a part of the withdrawal agreement because they all think it should be. Convincing them to see the interests of the other side of the argument is nigh on impossible.

The EU is capable of economic self harm in the course of negotiations. This makes it a very difficult organisation to negotiate with. Under normal circumstances one can rely on any given actor in a negotiation to look to their own best economic interests. When one actor is able to ignore its own best economic interests it changes the rules of engagement. Logic would dictate that the EU would wish to negotiate a deal with the UK that would keep trade on a relatively similar keel to the one that it is on now. Dealing with the EU one cannot rely on logic.

It must be infuriating to the ordered Swiss to have to negotiate with the EU. Instead of coming to the negotiation with a set of wishes that can be traded the EU comes to the negotiation with an inflexible list of demands. It then proceeds to trying to crush the other side to force its demands upon them. No amount of coherent argument will sway the EU from its given stance.

For the British government the task is just as hard. The EU truly believes it has compromised in coming up with the withdrawal agreement. In truth it hasn’t. From the freedom of movement to the last penny of the divorce settlement the EU has stuck blindly to its demands. Negotiation was largely academic. The EU knew what it wanted and was determined to get it. Having a Remainer at the helm didn’t help but in reality there was no helping.

So if we are to leave with no deal it is not surprising. The EU is not an organisation that can be dealt with in any realistic fashion. As the Swiss have learnt to their cost the EU is a monolithic bloc that rolls over its negotiating partners to achieve its ends. Or, in the case of Switzerland, achieves nothing but stalemate.

Our focus should be outward to the rest of the world. Trade with the EU will continue but we mustn’t get bogged down in the idea that the EU is the only game in town. Negotiating free trade agreements with countries that aren’t the EU will be refreshingly easy by comparison with negotiating with the EU. We can make new friends with Swiss researchers lost by the EU’s intransigence. We can find in the US a real trading partner with a view to trade rather than immovable principles.

While we should pity the Swiss, caught up as they are in the quagmire of a EU negotiation, we must keep our sights on the bigger prizes. It is ludicrous to think of ourselves as becoming the weaker for heading out on our own. In the long run we will be the stronger for it.