Swiss media find Britain-EU deal ‘an enormous risk’

Cameron announced his deal with the EU at 10 Downing Street on Friday Keystone

As Switzerland waits for the outcome of Britain’s vote on staying in the European Union to resolve its own issues with the 28-nation bloc, the Swiss press sees huge hazards in “Brexit” and David Cameron’s deal with the EU. 

This content was published on February 21, 2016

“In the end, the ‘other 27’ offered [Cameron] a compromise approaching the limits of feasibility,” commented the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper after the British Prime Minister struck a deal with the EU on Friday. The deal allows his country special terms related to benefits for migrants, further integration into the Union and business relocation. British voters will vote on June 23 whether to stay in the EU under the terms of the deal, or leave in a so-called “Brexit”. 

But, the Tages-Anzeiger pointed out, the deal “hardly amounts to the ‘fundamental reform’ of the EU that Cameron had been calling for”. What must follow, the paper argued, is a fundamental and long overdue debate about the purpose behind Britain’s membership in the bloc. 

But time is running out for Cameron to make his case, the commentary pointed out, with a deep rift already having formed in his party. 

“This much is clear: Cameron took an enormous risk, for himself, for his country and for the rest of the EU.” 

Snowball effects

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper agreed that risks abound for the European Union following the deal: “With the exit of the EU’s third largest contributing member and second largest economy, its economic power would shrink by 16%”.

Correspondent Oliver Washington for Swiss public radio and television SRF said that the main losers in the deal are the EU’s eastern European members, whose people have increasingly immigrated to Britain to find work and will now likely face increased scrutiny and benefit cuts.

And the EU isn’t helping itself, the NZZ pointed out, since its current lack of cooperation could swing the outcome of Britain’s vote.

“Unforeseen negative headlines, like an escalation in the refugee crisis, could fuel the campaign for those wanting to leave the EU,” the paper said.

Correspondent Oliver Washington of Swiss public radio and television SRF said the deal opens the door for other EU countries to come to special arrangements with the Union. Switzerland, though not in the EU, is waiting for the outcome of the Brexit vote to strike its own deal with the 28-member bloc over a vote last year to curb the number of EU immigrants, over which negotiations have largely stalled so far. 

However, EU expert Dieter Freiburghaus told the Blick newspaper that Cameron's deal is "a bad sign for Switzerland", having achieved very little.

"If Cameron couldn't even manage to shake up the free movement of people, then Switzerland has no chance," the professor emeritus said, adding there was never really any hope that the country could implement its vote over EU immigrant quotas without seriously jeopardising the free movement agreement.

"Switzerland's last hope died with the result of Cameron's negotiations."

A win for Cameron?

Media analysts were somewhat divided over whether the deal represented a victory for the British leader. 

“Cameron got much of what he wanted,” said Washington. “And the EU gave him what he needed so he could remain credible.” 

However, the NZZ argued that any deal was never going to impress those against Britain staying in the EU. And, the paper argued, the upcoming Brexit vote could pose a risk to Britain’s very existence, since a vote for exiting the EU could re-ignite pro-Union Scotland’s efforts to leave the United Kingdom. 

“Whether [Cameron’s] salesmanship is enough to convince a majority of Brits to vote ‘yes’ to staying in the EU remains to be seen,” the NZZ said.

“But the prime minister’s biggest trump card could be that many undecided voters will prefer to say yes to an imperfect status quo than leaping into the unknown.”

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