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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Why is criticism of the European Union so widely spread in Switzerland? Probably, one of the most important reasons why so many Swiss are opposed to EU membership is the potential effect on the Swiss democratic system. They fear that accession would limit the possibilities of the Swiss people to vote on constitutional and legislative changes. In our next course week, however, we will see that it is perfectly possible to find ways to accommodate Swiss democratic procedures when we will talk about Swiss participation in the EU’s Schengen System on border control. At the same time, it is true that, should the population vote in favour of rules that infringe EU law, this would have legal consequences if Switzerland were an EU Member State.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds The legal starting point here is that EU law takes precedence over national law. This is generally recognised by the Member States, though some of them have certain reservations. In practice, an infringement of EU law can have several consequences. Most importantly, if the rule of EU law meets certain conditions, the person who derives rights from it can rely on this rule in a national court. This court then cannot apply conflicting national law. This element is called the ‘direct effect of EU law.’ Next, if the infringement leads to a financial damage, the person who suffers that damage can go to a national court and ask for compensation from the state.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds Further, it is possible that steps are taken on the level of the EU itself. There, one of the institutions in particular has the task of acting as a watchdog, – namely, the European Commission. The Commission can investigate infringements of EU law by the Member States, and it can bring the states to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Under certain conditions, this can lead to financial sanctions against the state concerned. All of these elements serve to ensure the enforcement of EU law. They are important factors for the supranational system of the EU.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds Indeed, these are factors that make EU law much stronger than general international law, and that would have quite tangible consequences in the case of Swiss EU membership.

Reasons for Swiss Criticism

Switzerland remains suspicious of the legal effects of European Union (EU) membership.

European Union law is a particularly strong type of international law that has immediate effects on the national legal orders of its Member States. In Switzerland, the fear that EU membership would have a negative impact notably on the Swiss democratic system is widespread.

Having watched this video, what do you think about the elements mentioned in it (direct effect, damages action and infringement proceedings) that help to enforce EU law and about their potential effect on the Swiss democratic system?

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This video is from the free online course:

Switzerland in Europe: Money, Migration and Other Difficult Matters

University of Basel