You may have read about the Swiss vote to reinstate immigration quotas for European Union nationals.
As a US-born naturalized Swiss citizen and bicontinental resident, I'm uniquely positioned to provide some much needed context.
In spite of their country's central location in the European continent, the Swiss have pretty much managed to stay out of trouble for the past 500 years or so.
In the meantime, their neighbors butchered each other in a series of wars that culminated in the two World Wars. Finally, after over 60 million human beings lost their lives in World War II, European countries decided that trade should replace warfare as the continent's favorite pastime, planting the seeds to the super-national structure that would evolve into the European Union (EU).
While more and more countries joined the EU, the Swiss never felt the need to join. In the 1990s, when they were asked to vote on whether they ought to join, they politely declined.
Yes, they were asked. That's because Switzerland enjoys a unique form of direct democracy that puts the USA and most EU countries to shame. Citizens, not politicians, really do decide.
After saying "no, thank you" to EU membership, the Swiss quickly realized that the idea of a continental-scale common market with no trade barriers was not too shabby. So they negotiated a number of so-called bilateral agreements with the European Union. This way, Switzerland became economically integrated while remaining politically isolated. Who ever said you can't have your cake and eat it, too?
This was the basic context; stay tuned for part two, where we'll tell you more about the vote itself.