Switzerland towards a second referendum on EU migrants

MANUEL LOPEZ

Swiss Federal President Johann Schneider-Ammann (R) welcomes European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during a meeting about the implementation of restrictions to immigration with the EU, at Villa Hatt in Zurich, Switzerland, 19 September 2016. Juncker is in Switzerland for talks on a Swiss referendum from 2014 in which Swiss voted to curb immigration from EU states, an outcome which infringes a bilateral deal with the EU on free movement of its citizens.

The Swiss government get it: no EU migrants, no EU market


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The Swiss government favors a second referendum on whether or not to impose curbs on migration, a cabinet minister announced on Wednesday.

First referendum and “negotiations”

Officials in Bern have been trying to implement curbs on EU migrants following the results of a 2014 referendum, a political context directly comparable to Brexit. But, the EU is making no concessions so far.

25% of the residents of Switzerland are foreign nationals.

Bern hopes to come to an agreement under which a current resident of Switzerland – Swiss or EU citizen – will have preferential access to its job market. The Swiss parliament will vote on this proposal this December. Proponents of the bill argue that this deal requires no EU approval, but both Brussels and EU member states are not willing to play along, fearing that will have a spillover effect on Brexit negotiations.

But, even if that proposal was miraculously accepted in Brussels, it would not be acceptable in Bern.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that spearheaded the anti-immigration campaign in 2014 opposes the deal and wants a clear cut quota system. The SVP opposition has been threatening to collect 50,000 votes and force a second referendum on the issue unless the government succumbs to its pressure.

New referendum

The government is calling the bluff, planning its own referendum and framing the question more simply. “Close the Swiss borders to EU migrants and say goodbye Single European Market or preserve open borders.”

The Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga made the point succinctly: “you can’t have both” and “you have to decide.”

There is still a more radical proposal, known as Raus aus der Sackgasse (RASA) that asks voters to bury the 2014 immigration vote.

The price of passporting

Switzerland exports 60% of its goods to the EU, selling everything from cheese to drugs, as well as all kinds of services, including financial services of the kind London is selling.

But, “passporting” comes at a price.

Switzerland’s “special relationship” with the EU has been built through seven interlinked agreements negotiated since 1999. If one agreement goes, the package collapses, although that is for political rather than legal reasons.

It is estimated that Switzerland could lose as much as 7% GDP growth by 2035 if a hard border deal is advanced. So, ending EU migration is possible, at a price.

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