Friday, 20 April 2007

Lesson of the mountain republic

Switzerland is a near-perfect democracy – so it won’t join the EU, says Daniel Hannan mep

If the EU is as bad as I think it is, why do countries keep queueing up to join it? I have been wrestling with this question for years. Now, I think I have the answer.

Membership of the EU can be good or bad for a country overall; but it is invariably good for some people within each country, namely its politicians, diplomats, civil servants and lobbyists. Brussels offers them hugely lucrative career opportunities. Most MEPs take home more than their prime ministers.

During the 2004 accession referendum, an Estonian newspaper calculated that a civil servant who transferred from Tallinn to Brussels, doing the same job at the same rank, would increase his salary 27 times. It was precisely these people, of course, who were negotiating Estonia’s entry.

The Norwegian and Swiss governments keep applying to join, for similar reasons – although, so far, each attempt has been rejected in a referendum.

I spent Easter in Switzerland, the best and purest democracy on Earth. But its politicians see EU membership as a way of sidestepping the tradition of referendums.

“The Swiss are very conservative,” a charming liberal-leaning MP told me. “They vote ‘no’ to almost anything.” And your problem with that is? “No, really, you must understand. They vote against all taxation, they vote against immigration, they vote against sharing sovereignty with other states, they vote against minority rights…”

No wonder the level-headed Switzers are against the EU. Where their system is predicated on the maximum devolution of power, the EU’s is founded on precisely the opposite principle: ‘ever-closer union’.

Where Switzerland is a near-perfect democracy, Brussels is designed to allow interest groups to advance agendas that wouldn’t pass the ballot box. Which system delivers the more prosperous and contented polity? As the Americans say, go figure.

This article first appeared on The First Post