A love-hate relationship: Switzerland's relationship with the European Union (EU) could be described as mutually beneficial at best, but downright difficult at worst. Both accept the necessity of one another, but once in a while tensions bubble to the surface. We provide a closer look at some of the dynamics.

AuteurGallinelli, Sven

One way to learn about the relationship between the EU and Switzerland is to embark on a short journey to Canton Schwyz. Once there, continue to the fascinating Muotatal valley, where the mountains keep half the valley in constant shadow.

Park your car where the street stops at the very end of the valley, and board the cable car to the Glattalp plateau. Your trip is almost over--after a 90-minute hike, you will arrive at the ridge of the surrounding mountains.

Find a senner (a mountain shepherd and dairyman) who tends the cows kept there during summer, and ask him what he thinks about the European Union.

"We do not need to be ruled from outsiders who are far away," is the answer you are likely to get. You should probably now change the subject, since there is nothing more the senner has to say when it comes to Switzerland and the EU.

Hardly a landslide

This isn't just the opinion of farmers who live in remote areas. The likelihood of receiving similar responses anywhere in Canton Schwyz is high, since Schwyz ranks among the most conservative cantons in the country. And, it's one of only two that said 'no' in February when Swiss voters cast ballots on whether or not to extend the free movement of people agreement with the EU.

Specifically, the agreement was to be extended to new EU members Romania and Bulgaria. The majority of Swiss voters--56.6 per cent--voted 'yes' and the referendum passed. (Cantons Schwyz and Ticino were the only two of the Confederation's 26 that said 'no'.) But still, 43.4 per cent of all voters said 'no'.

"The majority of the Swiss understood that their 'yes' was essential for the whole relationship we have with the EU," says Dominique Boillat, press secretary of the Swiss federal integration office that coordinates the relationship between the EU and Switzerland. "Swiss voters are aware that a stable relationship between the most important trade partner--which is the EU and Switzerland is unavoidable."

Fiercely free

And indeed, the last vote was important. If Switzerland had voted against the extension of the free movement agreement, the EU would have repealed all the other contracts that have been set up in the last 10 years--including those that create a flexible job market that leads to significant profits for the Swiss economy.

A 'no' vote could also have caused trouble in other areas including air traffic, educational and agricultural agreements, and science--regarding the latter, Switzerland would have been...

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