Swiss Populist Leader Blocher 'We Are a Sovereign Country'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Christoph Blocher, the leader of the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party discusses the success of his recent campaign in a referendum against "mass migration" and Switzerland's future relationship with the EU.

Christoph Blocher, 73, is Switzerland's most controversial politician. The billionaire entrepreneur transformed the Swiss People's Party (SWP) into a right-wing populist organization that campaigns against the European Union, immigration and Islam. It was Blocher, educated as a lawyer, who led the successful campaign against Switzerland joining the European Economic Area in 1992. From 2004 to 2007, he served as a member of the government before getting voted out of office. He remains a leader in Swiss politics and recently financed the campaign against "mass immigration" to the tune of 3 million francs (€2.45 million).

SPIEGEL interviewed Blocher in the wake of the Feb. 9 referendum in Switzerland in which 50.3 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of capping immigration from the EU.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Blocher, after the referendum you said that the European Union would be the supplicant in coming negotiations with Switzerland. Are you suffering from delusions of grandeur?

Blocher: Excuse me, but just take a look at reality. The EU wants Switzerland to bring its tax laws into line. Second, it wants us to expand the taxation on interest on bank accounts belonging to EU citizens. Third, they want us to become so institutionally interconnected that Switzerland would have to automatically adopt European laws in the future. And then they want us to allow the European Court of Justice to decide on treaty disputes. These things are all in the EU's interest. If the EU now threatens to cut off bilateral relations, then it can do so. That wouldn't cause Switzerland to go down.

SPIEGEL: Do you seriously want to end negotiations and breach agreements?

Blocher: Switzerland can't breach treaties and it will not do so. But certain negotiations -- namely over binding our institutions -- should be suspended. We won't be concluding any colonial treaties -- not even with the EU. The European Commission's attitude is this: What do you want, little Switzerland, what occurs to you? I thought we'd gotten past such thinking after the world wars and decolonization. Everybody talks about people's right to self-determination. Is that now no longer the case? It appears I was wrong. Small countries are punished just like little boys. Switzerland cannot put up with that.

SPIEGEL: You're presenting your country as the victim of sinister powers. The fact is that Switzerland agreed to a package of treaties with the EU of its own volition. Why should the EU allow Switzerland to curtail the right to free movement of persons?

Blocher: We finalized a treaty that includes review clauses and cancellation periods. We will adhere to those. But because the free movement of persons is leading to a catastrophe, the Swiss people have decided to move away from it. Under the treaty, it was agreed that the deal would have to be revised if there were economic or social difficulties. Of course one could claim that there are no such disturbances. But more than 50 percent of voters have determined differently. Some 23.8 percent of Switzerland's population is comprised of foreigners, and almost 15 percent are first-generation naturalized Swiss citizens. No similar European state has anything like that.

SPIEGEL: The EU could also serve notice on other treaties with Switzerland and shut it out of the common market.

Blocher: That is true. But do you really think the EU countries would relinquish their interests? For example: The most important agreement for the EU is the transit treaty that allows free passage from Holland to Italy, from one sea to another through the Gotthard Tunnel. Do you want to cancel this treaty? Germany? Italy? The Benelux countries? Yes, you could somewhat snobbishly claim that we're just a small country, but the Gotthard Tunnel is located in this small country and if the EU cancels the treaty, then we can also do what we want with this road. Switzerland is currently building and paying for two train lines that are specifically for the EU. Do you want to lose that?

SPIEGEL: So you're saying that Europe has to comply with Switzerland?

Blocher: No, but Switzerland is not a member of the EU and it doesn't want to become one. We are a sovereign country. And Swiss voters have now decided that they want to discontinue the free movement of persons. The National Council (Switzerland's federal government) will now prepare a plan for implementation by the middle of the year. Then it will speak with the EU. If the EU doesn't want to agree to it, then (the treaty) will have to be suspended. The EU Commission has stated that the free movement of persons is one of the pillars of the European internal market. I agree with that -- but we're not a part of the European internal market.

SPIEGEL: How will you seek to prevent negative consequences for Switzerland -- in terms of free movement of goods and capital?

Blocher: You know, I'm a businessman, and EMS Chemical (which is majority owned by Blocher's family) exports over 90 percent of its goods. Ten years ago, two-thirds went to the EU, but today it is down to about 50 percent because the European economy is paralyzed and Asia has become more important. Incidentally, Switzerland is the EU's third-largest customer. The Swiss buy more from the EU than they sell to it. Do you really believe that one would alienate a customer like that? As Charles De Gaulle once stated: Countries don't have friends, they have interests.

SPIEGEL: In your campaign for the referendum, SWP drafted horror scenarios of an overflowing Switzerland, a country that has become a cement jungle. The truth is that your country is doing better than ever before. Why the scaremongering?

Blocher: It's not scaremongering. If things continue, we will surpass the 10-million mark in 2033. By 2061, we will have 16 million inhabitants, more than half of whom will be foreigners.

SPIEGEL: That's a very simple calculation. What about the supply and demand factors that influence immigration?

Blocher: Everyone is crowding into our country -- and Switzerland offers the greatest social benefits in Europe. What happens if an immigrant becomes unemployed after a short time? The National Council recently stated that it doesn't have to pay welfare in such cases. But can we allow them to starve? And more and more immigrants will come. Starting in 2016, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to free movement. When I read German newspapers, I note that Germans are afraid of the Bulgarians and the Romanians.

SPIEGEL: Do you know how many foreigners work for your company?

Blocher: Around 30 percent.

SPIEGEL: Going by the SVP's logic, is that not too many?

Blocher: No. Besides, we would have gotten these people even without free movement. Under the agreement with the EU, we are supposed to give Europeans the preference, but that could be dropped soon in which case we would be free to attract the best skilled workers from around the world.

SPIEGEL: Most of your applause is coming from right-wing extremist parties. Do you feel comfortable in the company of these groups?

Blocher: No, I do not associate with this lot. But it isn't possible to prevent such applause. The SVP has nothing to do with xenophobia. I also reject the accusation that Switzerland is xenophobic. We don't have the kind of foreigner ghettos that other European countries have and there is no right-wing extremist party.

SPIEGEL: So it's just the result of some big misunderstanding that your SVP is considered to be a far-right party?

Blocher: That is vilification from opponents and journalists. SVP is currently the largest party and it will soon turn 100 years old. It is business-friendly and conservative. We are committed to making sure that Switzerland remains the direct democracy that it is today.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider yourself to be a European?

Blocher: Yes, absolutely. But I'm sorry, the EU is an incorrectly designed and overly complicated construct. It has also shifted far away from being an idealistic peace project.

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
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