What is the matter with sovereign citizens

What does sovereignty actually mean?

General Secretariat of the DDPS

Bern, October 25, 2014 - Speech by Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer on the occasion of the delegates' assembly of SVP Switzerland on October 25, 2014 in Rothenthurm

I came here today to warn you about a trick - a simple but powerful trick. You know how a wine lover works. He mixes the expensive wine with a cheap booze. The etiquette stays the same. But the content is thinned out, worthless and unhealthy.

There are not only wine fans, there are also term fans. It works like this: You take one of our central values ‚Äč‚Äčthat mean a lot to us Swiss. And then you start to water it down and change it or even twist it into the opposite.

For example sovereignty. A new megatrend is proclaimed, it is said: There is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. Or also, you have to redefine sovereignty. And again and again even the assertion: If we forego sovereignty here and there, then we would thereby strengthen our sovereignty as a whole. So the more you give, the more you have - there has probably not been such a miracle since the feeding of the five thousand ...

Anyone who thinks to the end of this absurd logic would inevitably come to the conclusion: There is no better legal status than that of a guardian. And nobody would be as free as a slave. This is of course nonsense, even if it is sometimes even spread by professors.

The importance of sovereignty

Let's get to the bottom of the matter: What does sovereignty actually mean? Sovereignty simply means independence from the influence of other states. That's what it says in Duden. We can also say that sovereignty means self-determination as opposed to external determination.

Thanks to sovereignty, we citizens can decide our own fate. We give ourselves the rules by which we want to live. We have chosen a federal, direct democratic and constitutional order.

This gives the sovereignty of our country a special, additional value: It is not just about independence in terms of foreign policy, but also about our internal freedom. A free order, direct democracy and sovereignty belong together in Switzerland.

We did well with that. A comparison with other countries confirms this. In recent years the difference has become even clearer due to the debt and euro crises.

So we can say: On the one hand, we are again seeing how important our sovereignty is. On the other hand, we are observing what I have termed mockery of terms, i.e. an increasing dilution of sovereignty.

The value of sovereignty

This dilution of sovereignty can be traced back to two fundamental misunderstandings: First, there is the idea that a higher level of human development would be achieved if we relativized our state sovereignty and our national law in favor of new, international and higher authorities. In addition, there is the belief that it is an irreversible process of civilization and that critics simply misjudge the signs of the times.

Both assertions miss the reality. First, the weakened sovereignty is not a gain, but a threat to progress and international stability. Second, it is not a natural development, but a power-political compulsion - and there are good reasons to question this.

I would like to go into these two aspects in more detail:

1. State sovereignty is a concept of peace

Anyone who restricts state sovereignty is jeopardizing a concept of peace that has proven itself very well overall over the past three and a half centuries. Sovereignty as we know it today goes back to the 17th century. It is a consequence of the Thirty Years' War. With the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a war that raged for a whole generation and destroyed large parts of Central Europe was ended.

Out of this terrible experience, the principle of sovereignty arose: There should be no higher authorities above the states to interfere in their internal affairs. And the various states also have equal rights among each other. No one is superior to the other. The state has its own order and decides its own laws, which it applies and enforces within its borders. When sovereign states negotiate with one another and conclude treaties, they meet on an equal footing.

At that time it was a fundamental innovation: because before, during the entire Middle Ages and at the beginning of the early modern period, there were no clearly defined bodies of state.

Until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Switzerland was still formally part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the Kaiser saw himself as its head.

The sovereignty of the states brought an important clarification of the political situation and the possibilities for interference and interference were reduced. That gave Europe stability and brought progress and prosperity.

Conversely, if the principle of sovereignty was disregarded, it almost always led to crises, tensions or even worse; when large, powerful states have tried to influence others. It is therefore no coincidence that the principle of state sovereignty was reaffirmed after catastrophes like the two world wars. Because the mutually respected sovereignty excludes precisely such power-political aberrations.

For several years now, sovereignty has been fundamentally questioned again:

International organizations are increasingly issuing regulations that intervene deeply in the domestic order. Let's just think of tax law or the protection of privacy. We too have changed our laws in response to external pressure.

Institutions without democratic legitimation are given more and more powers. For example the International Monetary Fund or the European Central Bank. In many countries they are now determining economic policy over the heads of the affected population.

Apparently powerful states like the USA no longer accept the sovereignty of other countries. They declare their own laws to be valid worldwide - and enforce them here too, such as FATCA.

For years, the EU has been gradually reducing the sovereignty of its member states. And it obviously wants to involve Switzerland more and more in its sphere of influence: We are now negotiating an "institutional solution". That could mean that we would have to continuously adopt its legislation and submit to its judges. That would then be the end of our sovereignty.

Against the background of historical experiences, all of this worries me very much. If state sovereignty is relativized and restricted, this is not progress, but a step backwards: we are returning to relationships of dependence and subordination. This also increases tensions, frustrations and resentments. I therefore consider the current development to be very dangerous.

2. The desire for self-determination remains alive

I also contradict the second claim that there is a natural trend towards global integration of states.

There have been and are always power-political constraints that work in this direction. But the need of peoples, countries or even regions for self-determination is unbroken. This always shows when the constraint is removed. Let's just look at the last quarter of a century:

As soon as they had the opportunity, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe severed their military and economic ties: the Warsaw Pact and Comecon were both dissolved in 1991. The multi-ethnic state of the Soviet Union broke up, and Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia dissolved.

We see historical minorities in Western Europe who are demanding more self-determination. From the Basque Country to Corsica to South Tyrol. Or think of the Jura, which became a canton in its own right with the 1978 referendum.

We see the demand for more self-determination by regions that, as economic engines, move the whole country forward. For example Catalonia or Northern Italy. They oppose that their prosperity is siphoned off by a central state.

We are following the debate on self-determination in Great Britain: The Scots did not vote in favor of independence in a referendum because they had been granted extensive autonomy rights beforehand. And the UK is calling for more self-determination within the EU; Prime Minister Cameron even had to promise his citizens a vote to leave in 2017.

Last Monday I read the title on the front page of the NZZ: "British plans for immigration quotas". You are amazed. Or you are just not amazed:

Because the desire for sovereignty, for self-determination, is and remains alive. Not only with us in Switzerland. People everywhere want to live according to their own law, according to a law that meets their needs and solves their real problems.

Rothenthurm as food for thought

In this context, a final thought - history inspires: Here in Rothenthurm, the Schwyzers under Alois Reding defended their sovereignty against the French on May 2, 1798. They won the battle. Nevertheless, the French overwhelming power was able to occupy the country. For a few years, Switzerland was an externally controlled satellite state. Even then, by the way, the real intentions were obscured with wrong terms: the conquerors had claimed that they would bring freedom. Instead, they looted the country.

Later, Switzerland was able to free itself from its paternalism and take its fate into its own hands again. It is probably one of the permanent tasks of all citizens of our small country that we have to repeatedly oppose the influence of large states or powerful institutions. And that we try to regain our sovereignty where we have given it up.

Start by looking through the term bogus. It's not difficult, it just takes some common sense. Check international ties with a very simple question: Can we still determine ourselves or do others determine us?

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General Secretariat of the DDPS