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The Swiss "Sonderfall": Identifying Neutrality and its Influence on Cooperation with the European Union

Adrian Favero

Switzerland remains a neutral state outside of the EU and is often described as a Sonderfall, or a "special case". Neutrality constitutes an important factor in shaping Swiss national identity, domestic cohesion, and prospects for EU membership. However, the Federal Council's stance on neutrality and accession to the EU differs from that of the Swiss citizens. The government sees neutrality merely as an instrument to protect the nation's interests that would not be affected by EU membership. This paper examines if the citizens' opinion is reflected in the government's official policy reports, given the possibility of the electorate's direct influence on political propositions. Using Eurobarometer surveys in Switzerland and official documents published by the government, I analyse the data using a mixed methods approach. I find that the citizens' attachment to neutrality is directly linked to feelings of national identity and negative attitudes toward EU membership. These correlations remain stable over the analysed time period. I also demonstrate that the government frequently ignored the citizens' viewpoints over the last two decades: safeguarding economic and political interests was given priority over taking into account the particular threats to identity as perceived by Swiss citizens. Analysing neutrality and its effects on attitudes towards the EU provides an insight which helps to understand the importance of political institutions as a social and cultural factor that shapes national identity and cohesion. Furthermore, Switzerland serves as a case study for the complex aspects of the political relationship between the electorate and the government.

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