After all my moaning about the travesty that the European Union has inflicted upon the beloved island of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the feisty Republic of Ireland that stood up to the EU (for awhile anyway)...a solution is at hand. While dining with some Swiss nationals in a warm and cozy lodge atop a mountain with the lights of the Rhine Valley twinkling in the distance, the answer came. It came not from an MGM Burt Lancaster voice-out-of-the-sky, but from a very practical, solid Swiss man who had grown up in the area.
"How have the Swiss managed to stay out of the European Union?" I asked. "Do you think you will be forced to join it eventually?" I thought of the strong tentacles of the EU and its bully tactics.
"Well, " he said, " We have always been a neutral country. And what I feel is this..." He leaned conspiratorially across the table. "Why can't we get the other European countries to join us, instead? We have got it right and we are doing very well. The natural solution to me is...a Swiss Union!"
We all laughed at the absurdity of that possibility in lieu of the odds. But is it? What would the Swiss be able to teach all of us? A great deal it seems.
|My copy of "Heidi"|
After living in Great Britain for almost a decade and dealing with the monster bureaucracy and "can't be bothered" attitudes, I was not prepared for what I saw in Switzerland. First of all, it was amazingly efficient. There were no queues at SwissAir to check-in your baggage and when you went to the front desk, you were greeted with polite smiles and a very helpful attendant. Upon arrival at Zurich Airport, the atmosphere was quiet and sedate, not at all like the cacophony of noise and chaos that is present at Heathrow or DeGaulle (or Houston for that matter.)
The air was clean and crisp, even in Zurich which is the largest populated city in Switzerland. We arrived there on a weekday, in the center of the city and there was hardly any traffic (thanks to great public transport.) The people were enjoying leisurely walks in the lovely autumnal afternoon. Shops were doing a brisk business, but there was a sense of calm and once again efficiency, it was as if the whole country was run on time, but without urgency. Zurich felt, to me, like the beautiful woman who does not have to hurry to the party because she knows she is the guest of honour and the party cannot start without her anyway. Not that she would dare be late. It wouldn't be polite. And if there is anything that I saw in the Swiss that was quite sterling was how polite they were. After having been jostled in the high streets in Great Britain, dropping packages (that no one bothered to help me pick up), being hit by revolving glass doors as someone else attempted to squeeze me out and almost being run over by cars in crosswalks...being in Switzerland felt a bit surreal. Strangers spoke to you, they smiled, they held doors open for you, even though I could not speak German, they attempted conversation with me in whatever English they could muster. I was very impressed and touched. Zurich is a multi-cultural city, but there is this sense of co-existence among everyone that is visible and palpable. I kept wondering, "Why are the Swiss so different from other European countries I have visited?" Aside from the fact that they have had the good sense to steer clear of the EU...they seemed absolutely content...at peace...happy.
Why is this? Why is it that the Swiss have "got it right" and the rest of the European Union is tanking spiritually, emotionally and financially? The Swiss are a "direct democracy". That is, no law is passed in Switzerland without the people voting and having their say. Even America does not have that. While the bullies in Brussels continue their march toward self-immolation passing law after law with no one having any vote, the Swiss respect their citizens enough to give them the power to decide their own destiny. They voted against joining the EU and this move was respected. There is however, increasing pressure on them to "go over to the dark (EU) side" through ever-increasing restrictive trade laws.
|Sovereign Proud Swiss Cow|
I am sure that Switzerland has its share of problems. Most countries do. But what I saw was a country that had been spared from the dictatorial and draconian measures that the European Union has handed down to its member countries. What I saw was a nation that stood up for democracy in a way that even the United States has failed to do (think of the bullying around healthcare). It is a country that has a lot to teach the world about what works and what doesn't. Basically, you cannot bully the Swiss. They may be polite, but they are not pushovers.
Why aren't we listening and learning from the Swiss? And more than that, where do I sign up to be a member of the "Swiss Union"? The efficient and polite queue forms to the rear. No pushing, now. The Swiss don't like pushing.
|Farmer's Market Stall in Arbon on Lake Konstanz|