The European Union will not drop an atom bomb on Switzerland if, on 9 February, defying opinion polls and the vast majority of political and business leaders, Swiss voters should approve the 'Stop mass immigration' initiative (see separate article). On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that an affirmative vote would bring to a halt the important negotiations under way between Berne and the EU in different sectors.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the EU Ambassador to Berne, Richard Jones, have repeated on a number of occasions that acceptance of the initiative would violate a fundamental EU principle - the free movement of persons - and consequently the EU-Switzerland agreement in this area, sealed in 1999.

In theory, such an outcome could prompt the 28 to terminate the agreement, which would automatically bring to an end the other six agreements concluded at the same time (air and land transport, agriculture, public procurement, research and technical barriers to trade), all of which are linked by a guillotine clause.

In practice, though, the Union is not very likely to take such extreme action. Whether acting by unanimity or qualified majority (legal opinions are still divided on the procedure that would apply), the EU member states would have a hard time agreeing on the subject, predict sources in Brussels and Berne. Why? Because a three-year interim is foreseen between adoption of the initiative and its transposition into Swiss legislation, as it would be the...

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