Thursday, April 9, 2020
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TCW’s Brexit Watch

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Our regular report from Bern, Switzerland

ON Friday there was a debate on Swiss TV about the forthcoming vote, in May, on the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) initiative to modify the social security aspects of belonging to the Schengen Group of countries. Someone has finally worked out that the Swiss are picking up part of the social security bills for every country around them. The three Federal Councillors and Director for Europe at their Foreign Ministry who met Ursula von der Leyen and her officials in Davos I reported on last week are still making news. Weltwoche obtained the minutes of the meeting from an EU source and published them this weekend. In a nutshell, the back-room deal is that if the EU accept the SVP changes, Federal President Sommaruga and her team will accept the framework agreement and do their best to win any consequent vote by the electorate – treaties require the voters’ approval. Do you wonder why so many Swiss and two-thirds of the cantons, particularly the smaller ones which are outvoted in the popular vote, have no intention of giving up direct democracy?

Please scroll to the end for my translation of the Weltwoche editorial and report by Roger Köppel on the Davos Secret Pact.

Weltwoche‘s Hansrudolph Kamer wrote a wonderful report from the Munich Security Conference, a breath of fresh air in a fog of liberal and socialist preaching, though obviously in German. Easy reading for those who know the language because the Swiss use a sentence structure much more like ours. The Tyneside accent is very similar to the old German spoken here. I don’t think people like Malcolm Rifkind should fret too much that Boris decided ‘pass’ was the best use of his time. Kamer takes a wise Swiss long view and says that like that 1965 Alex Guinness film the conference conclusion can be summed up in the title, Situation Hopeless – But Not Serious. He dismisses Macron’s argument that Nato is brain-dead. Nato has no brain. The USA is Nato’s brain and it was at the conference and calling the shots. The old saying still applies: Nato is there to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans under – long may that continue. 

If only Angela Merkel and her cronies were as wise.

From yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph it sounds as if the mandarins are trying to slow things down using the old ‘suitcases of paper to read’ trick. Sedwill even has a haircut that reminds of Sir Nigel Hawthorne, alias Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB KCB MVO.

The Swiss media are closely following the row over money in Brussels, well covered in the British press.They are fully aware whose pile of gold (it still exists, if not quite so huge as during the 1970s when two-thirds of all Swiss francs in circulation were backed by gold bullion stashed beneath the square in front of the Swiss Parliament) the Germans have their eyes on. 

Comment from Peter Fischer of the NZZ is here and translated for you below:

‘A successful EU is not a honeypot. The haggling over the next EU budget framework, which has been fruitless for the time being, revolves too much around revenue per mille and too little around priorities and the very raison d’être of the integration project. Too much money does more harm than good.

‘Portugal is a beautiful country with a good motorway network. It is not only very little used on long stretches of road, but is also largely built with EU money. Portugal has recently distinguished itself as the leader of the “Friends of Cohesion”. Seventeen countries from southern and eastern Europe are jointly resisting any reduction in the so-called cohesion payments which the EU pays out to regions that are underdeveloped. The system has become increasingly complex in recent decades under the influence of numerous interests and lobbyists, and in some regions up to two-thirds of public investment has been funded by the EU. Now individual Eastern European representatives argue that it is unacceptable that the main reason why they joined the EU after a laborious accession process is being undermined.’

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Here is the translation of the Weltwoche editorial referred to above:

Weltwoche reveals a confidential EU protocol. It shows how Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga is making arrangements with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to steer the vote on the free movement of persons in the desired direction.

The Federal President is allying herself with the EU against the limitation initiative and for the institutional framework agreement. Documents prove this.

Here is the report by Roger Köppel:

‘With this issue we document explosive processes. Weltwoche publishes for the first time the confidential EU minutes of the meeting of three Federal Councillors with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the World Economic Forum in Davos. They document how the Federal Council and the EU reached agreement in view of the referendum on the free movement of persons. There is an informal agreement. Federal President Sommaruga asked EU Commission President von der Leyen to remain completely silent until the immigration referendum. In return, the Bundesrat is to push ahead with the institutional framework agreement immediately afterwards.

‘We already reported on these spicy events in the last issue. The basis was the reporting of the Swiss radio station SRF, which revealed the recordings, but without quoting from them verbatim. When asked, the authenticity was assured, but colleagues did not want to give us the document to read or hand it over. Interestingly enough, the Swiss broadcaster did not discuss the delicate arrangements any further. The matter was lost in the face of the “Cryptoleaks” story, which was steamed up with much more steam. Apart from Weltwoche, no newspaper took up the chumminess with Brussels.

‘So we had to get the protocol through other channels directly from the EU headquarters. It is an authentic summary of the debriefing on von der Leyen’s meeting with Federal Councillors Sommaruga, Cassis and Keller-Sutter as well as chief negotiator Balzaretti in Davos. It is addressed to the EU ambassadors. They were informed by the Commission in confidence.


‘The wording, which Weltwoche is making available to the public for the first time, is quite a feat. The records show that Federal President Sommaruga has expressly asked EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen not to interfere in the vote on the immigration initiative. In turn, von der Leyen expects the Federal Council to make more effort in the institutional agreement in return.

‘Sommaruga’s secret deal will still need to be discussed. The Federal President is an opponent of the limitation initiative. She knows that EU interference in the voting process would benefit the supporters. This is the only reason she asked Brussels to refrain from any intervention until then. Von der Leyen agreed, but in turn demanded a quid pro quo in return, according to the proven economic principle of “quid pro quo”. This for this. One hand washes the other. The Protocol unambiguously establishes the Convention.

‘In the USA, less far-reaching agreements between the President and a foreign power [Ukraine] have led to impeachment proceedings. And in Switzerland? The Federal Constitution requires all state organs to protect the rights of the people and independence. The iron principles are difficult to reconcile with secret agreements between Federal Councillors and foreign powers. Article 267 of the Criminal Code even expressly prohibits “agents of the Confederation” on deprivation of liberty of “not less than one year” from entering into negotiations with “foreign governments” to the detriment of Switzerland. It is undoubtedly to Switzerland’s detriment if the President of the Confederation conspires with the EU to bring about the desired result of the vote.

‘The Federal Council reacted brusquely to inquiries by Weltwoche. The EU protocol does not correspond to the truth, it is claimed. This is theoretically possible, but unlikely. In any case, the state government should declare itself party to the Davos Secret Pact. Currently, political Switzerland is scandalising possible secret agreements between the Federal Council and foreign secret services thirty years ago. The current secret pact between the Federal President and the EU Chief Commissioner seems at least as relevant. European policy is of groundbreaking importance.

‘Is the case of the former Swedish company Crypto in Zug being hung too high? Quite possibly. We asked the German ex-intelligence officer and Minister of State Bernd Schmidbauer about this. The former CDU politician appeared as a key witness in the relevant “Rundschau” programme on Swiss television. He confirmed on camera that Crypto AG had sold manipulated encryption machines and had been secretly controlled for years by the CIA and the German Intelligence Service (BND).

‘On the phone Schmidbauer repeated his statements, but he relativised the excitement of the reports. He said the accusations against Crypto are ancient, and “Switzerland has been betrayed”. The “Minerva” dossier, cited with approval in the media, should be viewed critically. This alleged BND and CIA report – the basis of the revelations – should not be taken as “hard cash”. There was “a lot of wishful thinking” in it. It was doubtful whether the CIA had actually written the paper, which was written in bumpy English. “It doesn’t have an intelligence signature.”

‘This is a highly charged issue. Because Swiss journalists, who otherwise don’t believe a word the CIA says, treat the document as a revealed truth. Few embedded reporters, of course, have seen it. Which in turn does not prevent the media from setting up a journalistic tribunal against the Swiss FDP politicians Kaspar Villiger and Georg Stucky mentioned in it. It pulls strings all the way into politics. Perhaps it would be advisable to first decipher the truth content of the “Minerva” document in peace and quiet, before the state apparatus is put in a state of excitement for expensive money.

‘Schmidbauer further contradicts: From Switzerland, not more than a hundred states were monitored nationwide. The bugging campaign was limited and targeted. He also rejects the claim that the secret services earned millions thanks to Crypto. He does not think, says the intelligence expert, that the credibility of Switzerland and its government has suffered: “It’s not that drastic”.’ 

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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