16 February 2014
At first, I agreed with the consternation and shock expressed by most EU and national politicians in Europe after the Swiss decided to impose quotas on ‘us’—on EU citizens who travel to work in Switzerland. How could they? They have signed a free trade agreement with “us”! It’s give and take! We let them in, and they let us in! Yes, Switzerland was never interested in entering the EU, but Switzerland and ‘us’, we carried on with our free trade agreements. Switzerland was allowed to be as EU hostile as they wanted; they were not a member, and would follow most things “we” came to decide upon in Brussels (with the notable exception of tax evasion. As such, they were, in fact, much less of a “problem child” than the UK has been — because the UK is (still) in the EU, ‘which gives’ France, Germany and Brussels a real headache. However, now, the Swiss population have put an end to this relaxed relationship: they want their politicians to act on their behalf; they want less of ‘us’. How disgusting, I thought, they do not want me!? Why am I, a skilled graduate-to-be less worth to them than some of ‘their own citizens’, even though we share a single market?
…It took me a while to realise that the Swiss had adopted a language towards ‘us’ mostly white Europeans, of which our media and politicians in EU countries generally do not use to describe “me”. It is largely employed towards another type of migrant: those from not-so-western not-so-white and not-so-EU backgrounds. I came to the conclusion that, for the first time, I had been put in a humiliating position of inferiority that we—Western-Europeans (EU or not-EU)—impose on so many other migrants. I had learned what it is actually like to be treated like a migrant. I can have all the goodwill I want but the fact still remains: I am undesired, not welcome. And, I have to say, it is not the nicest feeling I have experienced so far in life. I am not even driven by financial incentives, such as a seasonal Ukrainian worker might be. Nor do I need shelter from war like a Syrian War refugee… Still, to know (slightly) more than 50% of the Swiss have decided to restrict my access to their working market has offended me, simply because I have enjoyed crossing theirs and other European borders without any restrictions for the past twenty years. It made me aware of how I, we, Europeans, still treat the rest of the world.
By saying that we thought “we” were equal to the Swiss, we all implicitly expressed an awareness of class, based on our cultural backgrounds. By saying we were all Europeans, we implied there are so many non-Europeans around us that we do not consider equal—even when they live next door.
So despite breaking free-trade agreements, the Swiss population has taught me a good lesson about us, Europeans. We are privileged. Switzerland, Danke-Merci!