Euro-sceptic movements were quick to congratulate Swiss voters as they favoured the reintroduction of immigration quotas in a referendum held on the 9thof February. As soon as the results were made public, UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared, that: “This is wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe. A wise and strong Switzerland has stood up to the bullying and threats of the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels.”
By a very slim margin, 50.4% of the voters approved the initiative tabled by the right-wing SVP/UDC (Swiss People´s Party, also known as Democratic Union of Centre), which leaves the government three years from now to decide how to set up the new immigration quotas. Its leader, Toni Brunner, had made his position on the topic very clear: “It’s clear that immigration needs to be reduced. I won’t stipulate any numbers. What is clear we need to be more selective”.
“A turning Point in the country´s immigration policy”
12 years after opening its borders, Switzerland seems to have turned its back on migrants, which will greatly affect the fate of EU nationals. Under the current scheme, a treaty dating back to 1999, EU citizens are granted Swiss residence permits as long as they have jobs, thus leading to approximately 64,000 EU citizens having settled in Switzerland every year over the past decade, according to the Federal Office for Migration. About a quarter of the 8 million-populated Alps Nation is estimated to be foreign-born.
The Swiss “yes” has come as a surprise as opinion polls had shown a majority against the initiative and a country very divided on the issue. The seven-member multiparty government and the Federal Council had opposed the reintroduction of immigration curbs. Parliamentarians, like Andreas Gross from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SP) had strongly accused the SVP/UDC of cutting the country off from the rest of the continent: “Switzerland is doing better than ever, and we have the people who are working here to thank for it”.Companies, especially in the pharmaceutical sector (which employ many foreign workers) crusaded for the “no”, claiming immigrations quotas would hinder their competitiveness in the global economy. Beat Moser, director of scienceindustries, said on the matter: (Bloomberg)“The “yes” creates uncertainties which are never good for the investment climate”.
Anxiety and skepticism
Besides a rejection of foreign workers, the vote results are also an expression of fear about a country changing so fast, asserts Michael Hermann, senior lecturer at the University of Zurich (Bloomberg 2)“It’s a protest vote, and an expression of skepticism”, “the EU “will take a hard line” as the immigration issue “has now been raised to a symbolics level.” This anxiety is widely spread, according to the MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in the Swiss countryside which hardly sees any immigrant settling in.
Being interviewed by the BBC, Mr. Haab, the owner of a farm just outside Zurich, shares his feelings: “I worry for my son," he explains, "and for my grandchildren. If we have 80,000 people a year… that means in 20 years, 10 million in Switzerland; in 40 years 12 or 13 million - that means the whole of north-west Switzerland will be one big city in the end”. Besides, he adds “It's getting too crowded. On the roads, on the trains, especially in the cities."
“A Rock and Hard Place”.
"The Swiss government will find itself between a rock and a hard place. It will have to implement the initiative and at the same time find a solution that is also acceptable to the EU”, admits Patrick Emmenegger, political-science professor at the University of St. Gallen.
In fact, the reaction from the EU top officials has not been remotely slow. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on his arrival in Brussels that “Switzerland has rather damaged itself with this result. Switzerland must realize that cherry picking with the EU is not a long-term strategy”.
Viviane Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission and European commissioner for justice voiced her own concern to the Financial Times: “The single market is not a Swiss cheese. You cannot have a single market with holes in it. Business people will make their cost-benefit analysis and decide where to establish their companies”.
Sweden´s EU-minister Birgitta Ohlsson draws undoubtedly the wisest conclusions:“Now that the country would close the borders for EU citizens, there is reason to look at how relations between the EU and Switzerland should look like in the future”.
Edited by: Svetli Vassileva