The structure of the EU is going to be Swiss: best known in Switzerland for his book 'Why Switzerland?' Professor Jonathan Steinberg is a scholar with an impressive reputation in European history. In this interview he reflects on the changes that Switzerland went through and shares his vision for the future of Switzerland within Europe.

Author:Heddema, Renske
Position:Politics
 
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Jonathan Steinberg looks remarkably young for a scholar with the extended CV he has. Nicely tanned by the Ticinese sun, he has just finished another series of lectures, this time at the Franklin College in the vicinity of Lugano. A specialist in European history, he may have been one of the first international historians to take an interest in Switzerland. In the beginning of the seventies, a scholarship of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia enabled the historian to do extensive research into the history, and democratic systems of the country. In his book 'Why Switzerland?' Steinberg attempts to explain how such an exception of European rules can survive, surrounded by a Union it refuses to join.

Twenty years later, in 1996, the book was completely revised. It appeared exactly before the issue of the dormant accounts began to haunt the Swiss, forcing them to rewrite their recent history. Speaking to Steinberg today means getting a fascinating expose of the Swiss identity from a European and a global perspective.

Swiss News: Professor Steinberg, Switzerland has gone through major changes in the past few years, What strikes you the most when you are back here these days?

"Every time I come back to Switzerland I am surprised at how much more Swiss-German (Schwyzerdeutsch) is being spoken. There used to be much more television programs in German in the seventies. Now the only program in German seems to be the daily news, the Tagesschau. It is something that strikes the Italian speaking and French speaking Swiss as well. It excludes them. Companies in the German speaking pan have telephone operators who will speak Swiss-German as a rule. There seems to be an on going, introspective tendency in the German part of Switzerland."

Meanwhile Europe has developed into a community of 25 States ...

"When I revised the book I interviewed Franz Blankart, the former State Secretary and he mentioned that everything was wonderful until the unification of East and West Germany. After the fall of the Berlin wall the EU refused to make any more concessions to states like Switzerland who wanted to participate in the EU on their own terms. It was either a full acceptance of the so-called 'acquis communautaire', the common rules, or no membership at all. The EU will have a hard time sticking to that iron rule, with the new member states claiming their own exceptions. The French, with their tendencies to centralise, want to introduce a European constitution...

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