Switzerland, eh? Never could quite work out their insistence on holding referenda on everything under the sun, but they’ve got it nicely right this time.
Not only have they demonstrated happily that they’re one of the least homophobic countries in the world, but they’ve opted to join the Schengen group. Now the Swiss can enjoy the benefits of (almost) Europe-wide travel without the bother of passports and such like. (More info on the Schengen Treaty here and here.)
Coming as it does just after the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty by France and Holland, this can surely only be a further indication that a multi-speed Europe is the way forward. Switzerland, like Norway and Iceland, has shown little interest in joining the EU in its current form, but does want some of the benefits. Both Norway and Iceland are now part of the European Economic Area – but not the EU – while Switzerland rejected EEA membership yet has (unlike EU members Britain and Ireland) joined Schengen. Iceland and Norway joined that back in 1996.
The only question now is will the powers that be within the EU start paying attention, and see the benefits of bringing all these various cross-European agreements under a flexible EU umbrella? Not only would that allow the less integrationist current member states to carry on happily, but would enable those that wish it to create a mini “United States of Europe” at the core, surrounded by a larger Eurozone, surrounded by non-Eurozone members, surrounded by affilliate members. All could then be involved purely to the extent they wish, and both federalists and free traders could be kept happy under various parts of the overarching EU framework.
As far as I can see it, this has got to be the most sensible way to progress for all concerned. A regular EU Pick ‘n’ Mix where the sceptics can keep their distance and be safe in the knowledge they won’t be forced into closer integration against their will and the fanatics can happily break down national boundaries – all the while, everyone in the continent trading and talking more than ever before, with none of the resentment towards the organisation that the club mentality of the EU currently seems to breed among its opponents and non-members alike.
(I’m sure I’ll shut up about a multi-speed Europe sooner or later… Sorry…)