Europe – a bureaucratic oxymoron?

Last year I wrote about the bureaucratic struggles involved in a marriage with a foreign national in Vietnam. One year later, my wife and I are getting acquainted with the devastating bureaucracy that is sickening humans in Europe.

Having lived in Southeast Asia for a couple of years, an extended travel to my home place Europe sounded like a nice alternative to some idyllic beach honey-moon following our marriage in November last year. Given some work mandates in Europe and our consideration to moving to Europe, it eventually became more than a thought. However, as much as Schengen provides free movement for member countries, it can be a hindrance for their spouses. When sharing our travel ideas with the Swiss authorities in Vietnam, we were provided with two solutions: a) get a tourist visa valid for 3 months or b) apply for a temporary residence with the option to stay longer. Latter sounds more attractive, if one doesn’t consider a waiting time of 3 to 6 months and provided that the applicant knows where he/she is going to live[1]. Having to act on some immediate calls and intending to travel around Europe rather than sitting in some random apartment, we eventually left on a temporary visa that cost us a lot of money and effort despite an EU rule that makes Schengen-Visas for partners of European citizens free of charge[2].

Visiting Switzerland after a couple of weeks traveling and thinking we might overstay the 90 days in total, we decided to apply for a residence permit for my wife. Therefore we first needed to have a home – luckily we could register with the address of a close relative. By chance (one would think) this relative of mine lives in the municipality where our marriage application from Vietnam was processed a year back – a very important detail considering Swiss federalism[3]. To our surprise—and regardless of the three months waiting period[4] and the 700 USD that I had to pay for a paper stating that I was allowed to marry—the municipality had no clue about our marriage and we first needed to prove it. Our confusion got bigger when we showed them an email from the Swiss Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, dating 23 October 2015 and confirming that our marriage had been registered in the Swiss civil registers. Unfortunately, marriage registration ends at province (canton) level and although the municipality has full authority over citizens’ rights, it has no responsibility to access information at higher levels [sic!]. Therefore, we were required to get written proof from the authority at province level – something that in Switzerland non-surprisingly comes at a cost!

It took the authorities at province level (now, don’t get confused, I know it’s not easy) an entire month to reflect over our application, and then, ten days before the tourist visa was about to expire, we received a not-so-friendly letter asking us to provide answers and evidence of our relationship that are simply beyond human rights, regardless of whether our marriage was officially registered or not. Answers to questions such as ‘how often do you see your wife?’, ‘in what language to you communicate?’, ‘where has she [sic!] acquired those language skills?’ apart from an extract from the Vietnamese criminal records, photos showing us together etc. were simply too much. Fed-up with the racism and discrimination in this Nazi-friendly country and already having left for The Netherlands two weeks earlier, we decided to give it a go here, although we knew that one week was short. Yet, here in the Netherlands, things were way easier, straight to the point and nobody questioned a marriage that was prominently featured in the Vietnamese press[5]. From one of the competent immigration officers we also learned that the residence permit application was much smoother because being non-Dutch we enjoyed EU law. It looks much different for Dutch citizens applying for a residence visa for their spouse from a non-EU country and filing their application in The Netherlands.

Although it is often claimed that the EU made everything bureaucratic and complicated, from above experience we must acknowledge that the opposite is true. Unlike certain national policies, EU law respects human rights and tries to put citizens in the centre. That is very different in Switzerland, where an ever stronger mass of right-wing voters support even the abolition of the European Human Rights Convention. The reasons for that should be clear to us now: Swiss federalism has no room for humane policies. In 1965, Swiss writer Max Frisch famously wrote ‘We called for a workforce, but we got humans[6]’ – a quote in the foreword to a book about Italian migrants to Switzerland that brought it to the point. However, what should have been a warning to Switzerland is still unheard of 50 years later. Regardless of a very arrogant rhetoric about its role in human rights, Switzerland is nothing but a country with totally wicked values and rules that are only guided by money and greed. Humans don’t count, only their wealth does.

To conclude, while there are forces in Europe that criticize the EU for its bureaucracy or ask for a distance from the Union, one should ask why that is. Getting to the core of the issue we might discover that it is not displeasure for paper-power but rather a fear of losing control that governs these naysayers. This planet more than ever needs some humane instance which limits the power of evil, and the EU has been a good example for doing so since its birth.

 

[1] Unless you have a place where you can register your residence (e.g. an apartment that you rent), there is no way to apply for a long-term stay.

[2]  Like many other embassies in Vietnam, Switzerland has made joint-ventures with so called service providers. Latter charge a fee that we can’t avoid. The money is then shared between the service provider and those giving them access to this form of rent generation (yep, think twice and you’ll get it – communism is wonderful, given you have the right uncle!).

[3] A very unique feature of the Helvetic Alpen-state is the fact that the country has 26 provinces and something in the order of 2400 municipalities. All of them have distinct laws. While this might be a surprise for most readers, I suggest you read some articles about what made the country rich in the first hand. Democracy means different rights for different people!

[4] For processing my ‘marriage certificate’ application in the same municipality of origin that we were going to apply for the residence visa.

[5] My wife being a singer and celebrity, our marriage was well-documented in Vietnam’s media – a fact that has no relevance in light of Swiss authorities’ arrogance and their stupid little ‘follow-procedure-brains’. Remember Oprah Winfrey’s incidence in Zurich?

[6] Origin: ‚Wir riefen Arbeitskräfte, und es kamen Menschen.‘

 

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About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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One Response to Europe – a bureaucratic oxymoron?

  1. Reading your article as an EU workforce and human:D in Switzerland I have to say that it is very strange what Swiss authorities did with you and your beloved wife from Vietnam. Switzerland has a very lucky geographical position and have been always a buffer between Francophones and Germans. The other significant characteristic of Switzerland is that through its stability it became the bank of good and bad boys all over the history. And money makes money. More than one-third of the world`s property is managed by Switzerland. I can agree with you that not the cows or Swiss cheese makes Switzerland to Switzerland but other factors where the financial institutions and managing this huge share of the world`s fortune is more important as managing civic rights on a friendly and smooth way. In many ways the regulations in Switzerland are behind EU standards, or much less and therefore giving less securities by law (huge part is negotiable) also such as for workforce or representation of interests etc. Making politics with initiatives in the Swiss direct democracy is also not better or does not differ to making politics in the EU.
    Thanks you for citing my blog article (“abolition of the European Human Rights Convention”) at the No Hate Speech Movement site, our online campaign for human rights online http://www.nohatespeechmovement.org

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