“We have the same language and a similar culture,” wrote Socialist politician Martin Sailer in a motion filed with the St Gallen cantonal parliament this week calling for the assembly to explore the possibility.
The Rhine separates us “but could be a unifying element” he wrote, referring to the river that clearly separates the two countries.
Sailer said Vorarlberg, which measures 2,600 square kilometres, could either become Switzerland’s 27th canton or merge with the canton of St Gallen.
The politician conceded the “visionary” idea was possibly “crazy”, but said it was “definitely worth following up”.
He called on the government of St Gallen to state its position on the issue and asked how it might be possible to gauge the openness of people in St Gallen and Vorarlberg to the idea.
“What would the next, politically appropriate steps be?” he asked.
While the proposal appears to come out of left field, it is not without grounds. Sailer noted that a non-representative poll of around 4,000 people carried out by Vorarlberg regional news site vol.at in May showed 65 percent support the idea of the Austrian state joining Switzerland.
And another poll by Austrian regional television station Antenne Vorarlberg showed 51 percent for the idea.
In fact, many people in the wealthy region feel more attuned to nearby Switzerland than far-off Vienna . In addition, around 7,600 people from the Austrian state commute to Switzerland for work.
A historical precedent
There is a historical precedent for the idea too. In 1919, in the mad territorial scramble that followed the First World War, 81 percent of voters in Vorarlberg said they wanted the state to enter into negotiations towards joining neighbouring Switzerland.
But those plans were thwarted by the victors in the war who had other ideas in mind when it came to dividing up what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
There was some staunch opposition from within the Swiss government too, while French-speaking cantons were not in favour of another German-speaking canton and protestant regions did not want Catholic Voralberg in the country’s religious mix.
As yet, there has been no official response from authorities in Vorarlberg or Austria to the motion in the St Gallen parliament.
But the idea of an “Öxit”, as vol.at dubbed the idea of Voralberg joining Switzerland, is unlikely to be received warmly in distant Vienna.
Voralberg is one of Austria’s wealthiest regions. The regional GDP per capita in 2017 was €44,000 against the overall Austrian figure of €38.056.
Then there is the question of the European Union. Would people in Vorarlberg really be prepared to join Switzerland if it meant dropping out of the EU?