- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

GENEVA — Switzerland’s old guard, who want to keep the country “pure” and at arm’s length from the European Union, have found a new champion in Christoph Blocher, head of the archconservative Democratic Center Union.

Mr. Blocher, who last year was named minister for justice and police, has emerged as a leading voice calling for small government, reduced immigration and resistance to calls by business leaders for closer integration with the EU.

“If Switzerland entered the EU, it would lose its advantages,” argues the minister, who takes credit for dramatically reducing the number of applicants for political asylum, claiming that most of them flee poverty, not persecution.

Mr. Blocher’s party, rooted mainly in the German-speaking eastern part of Switzerland, finds itself at odds with the views of Swiss businessmen, who are generally in favor of EU membership.

Although membership is not on any official agenda, closer contacts with the EU are. Swiss voters will be called on this year to vote on a series of bilateral agreements with the EU, include new fraud laws that would make income-tax evasion a crime in Switzerland for the first time.

Mr. Blocher argues against any agreement that would transfer Swiss decision-making power into the hands of an appointed European Commission in Brussels.

“Switzerland cannot play a major role in Europe,” he said recently. “We are small country, which cannot protect its interests like France or Germany.”

In interviews, Mr. Blocher regularly points out that despite its small size and a population of only 6 million, Switzerland has become “one of the richest countries in the world because of our system, which limits economic intervention by the state.”

The Swiss system of “direct democracy,” providing for frequent referendums on even relatively minor issues, “prevents significant increases of income taxes and other taxes,” other Swiss officials say.

Mr. Blocher also opposes the prospect of looser border controls under the Schengen Agreement, which allows for free movement among most Western European countries.

He says the treaty’s advantage consists of a “greater facility for traveling in Europe, but not of guaranteeing better security. Switzerland should not become a refuge for criminals.”

Mr. Blocher’s hard-hitting remarks are often at odds with the low-key approach to major problems generally taken by the Federal Council, as the Swiss government is known. Some politicians claim that he has successfully imposed his views on several fellow council members.

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