Debate Magazine

Life Outside the EU

Posted on the 09 November 2015 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

1. I am not dead

2. Point of disclosure I live in Switzerland (if the UK wants to bum rape slum kids made good to pay for Essex millionaire grannies it can do so without my triple mortgaged brain footing it. Interesting legal point for another day, if born into society have you "accepted" to abide by the law or is it foisted on you?)

3. I am not really anti Europe. And if you stopped reading here then I will take comfort in fact that you have probably gone off to rot your brain with corporate welfare pleadings dressed up as news in the Telegraph. 

But enough of that. As you may know Switzerland is not in the EU. It is in another odd little club with Norway, Iceland and the only German speaking country to not border Germany, Liechtenstein, called the EFTA (European Free Trade Association). If you were going to say EEA, then make a dunce hat and wear it. WEAR IT I SAID!. (fun fact: the UK used to be a member of this too, from about 1960 to 1973 but decided more cash could be made from the EEC). 

For the people who cry "but Britain would be something circa Mad Max Fury Road" (really awesome film but terrible place to live) Switzerland, and to be fair the other members of the EFTA, present something of a problem. 

First off, some quick background. Switzerland is only about twice the size of Wales, fairly mountainous and with a population of about 8 million. It has 4 (well 4 and a half) languages of which German is the most prevalent, followed by French, then the Italian speaking canton of Ticino and lastly a few bits of Graubünden where Romansh is still in use. (the half is English because it is basically the default for shouting at non Swiss forrins too dumb to learn German) 
Swiss Unemployment hovers around the 3-4% mark with half of that broadly acknowledged to be people with serious conditions like non functioning alcoholism or drug dependency who are never really going to hold down a job anyway. The median household income is in the region of £50,000. The average in Germany, the richest country in Europe is about £30,000. 
The biggest export partners for Switzerland are Germany (about 20%) and the US (about 10%) and like most small European countries (looking at you Sweden, Netherlands and Lux) it has a very active and approachable diplomatic service that is quick to assist and support domestic businesses in their foreign adventures.

Much to the almost constant ire of the US, Switzerland point blank refuses to criminalise people who download copyrighted material and has successfully resisted various barbed demands over the years to change this policy. Make of that what you will in the "But how can we stand up to the US" arguments, apparently all it takes is a spine. (though if you post copyrighted material expect a serious bill in the post with a fairly blunt but polite note). 

While the apparently still shooty UK can press it's military reserves if really needed for a combined weight of about 250,000 personnel, thanks to a history of giving every teenager an assault rifle and pointing them at the nearest border the Swiss can mobilise almost 3 million troops surprisingly quickly. Almost every Monday morning my commute is met by a dozen or so late teens/early twenties boys with huge kit bags and aforementioned assault rifles slung around their persons. My neighbour explained that if you are issued with a gun you need to keep 50 rounds of ammunition with it just in case for example France decides it wants to have a go. the 50 rounds are to get you to your barracks where you "tool up". He then pulled out something that looked like it was the prototype for the blunderbus, but in fairness he is bluddy ancient, and waved it around until his tiny wife called him an idiot. 

It should also be borne in mind that Switzerland (along with Iceland and Liechtenstein) is not oil or particularly mineral rich so has no easy money (like the slovenly Norwegians who really have caught the resource curse) to smooth the road and so must rely almost entirely on international trade for its wealth. 
All in all therefore life outside the EU is pretty decent, even when you are literally surrounded by the EU. 
Except, it's not the whole story. The really odd thing is that the rabid, EU can do no wrong loons, would love the UK to look like Switzerland while those in UKIP's core vote who have that whole "let's go back to the 50s, I like my food boiled and boiled some more and was rampant racism all that bad" would absolutely hate it. 
The Swiss rejected the EU in the early 90s and the economy did suffer growth was certainly slow but the country did not become an economic waste land by any means. One of the biggest grudges attributed to that decision was the fact that Swiss Air got gobbled up by the rampant monster Lufthansa (which now has it's own legacy problems, so go figure). 
The Swiss therefore did what any sensible European country outside the EU would do (hint) and that was to spend 4 years arguing about association agreements. the upshot of this is that Switzerland today has borders which are more open with the EU, than the EU member UK has. I.e. I don't have to go through stupid passport control when I fly to the Netherlands for business or Austria for a cheap McD's (since I can throw a stone from Sumo HQ) but to go back to the UK I need to add an hour onto my journey time to stand in a boxy room and be stared at by a bored guy who we all know failed police school who doesn't even record the entry and exit. 
I do need a work permit, but because I am an EU citizen I can hang around for 3 months looking for work and if I apply for a permit I am guaranteed to get it. No quotas (well there has been a referendum so circle back in 18 months, generally west of Vienna = okay). I also have access to the Swiss benefit system which, unlike the complex "throw various packets of cash at everyone unless they have a beard and then bitch like a child who had to share the toys they weren't using" UK system, is simple and sensible. If you work for (I think) 18 months then you are eligible for benefits if you become suddenly unemployed. This stops people turning up and demanding benefits. This stops teens living on the dole post school and this stops any argument about discrimination since everyone has to meet the same standard. As it is very easy to hire and fire that unemployment has to kick in quick and because nobody wants to piss around with lots of benefits, the unemployment benefit is just 80% of your salary from the year before you were canned. 
It's a nifty trick because by not handing out things like housing benefit nobody is getting a private landlord to give them a house and no bank is giving a mortgage, meanwhile if you were employed you can still pay your rent but that 20% will be biting. 
While the Swiss legal system is quite open, business friendly and pretty much WYSIWYG, many things, such as Art.253b of the Swiss code of obligations gleefully slap rent controls into an otherwise quite free market economy. 

And of course the fabulous trains are pretty much still state owned. 

So there we have a quick over view from outside the EU, nowhere near a disaster zone, in fact, in comparison to much of the EU, things "actually work" however the UK would be starting from a very different position and would certainly need to endure some initial pain as it found its's feet and got its house in order. It very unlikely that the UK would cut all ties to the EU and that pretty much means that free movement of people is never going to go away. 

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