Anti-EU immigration proposal would damage prosperity, government says

Karin Keller-Sutter on Tuesday in Bern. Voters will have the final say on May 17. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Voting “yes” to a right-wing proposal to limit immigration from the European Union (EU) would have dire consequences for Bern-Brussels relations, the government has said.

This content was published on February 11, 2020 - 11:16

Two days after the latest nationwide votesExternal link, attention turns to the next ballots in May, which include a proposal by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party to take full national control of immigration.

The initiative, which reflects worries among some Swiss about immigration in general, demands that the government scrap the freedom of movement agreement with the EU within a year.

On Tuesday Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said this was unrealistic and the impossibility of finding an alternative agreement with Brussels would adversely affect the entire set of bilateral accords that regulate relations between Switzerland and Europe.

These 120 bilateral pacts cover various aspects of economic and political cooperation from agriculture to industrial standards. Keller-Sutter said scrapping them would have negative consequences for Switzerland’s exports, which depend heavily on the European market.

She also said that rejecting free movement could mean the end of Switzerland’s participation in the Schengen system of passport-free travel, as well as the Dublin system of handling asylum requests.

“This is a pure gamble, a leap into the unknown – it’s irresponsible,” she said.

Tricky relations

The vote comes at a difficult time for the government, which has been trying to come to an agreement with Brussels to replace the bilateral accords with an over-arching “framework deal” that would simplify relations.

Slow progress on these negotiations reflects domestic scepticism about Swiss-EU relations, which has also been a key battle-horse of the anti-EU People’s Party.

The People’s Party warns that “uncontrolled” immigration could raise the Swiss population to ten million from the current 8.5 million, with further pressure on infrastructure and the environment. It also says free movement of people encourages employers to recruit foreigners at cheap rates rather than Swiss people.

In 2014 a vote that was narrowly accepted similarly demanded that the government control immigration from Europe, a demand for which authorities found various “softer” solutions, including measures to give priority to Swiss residents in the job market.

Last September the House of Representatives came out against the current initiative by 123 votes to 63. Voters will have the final say on May 17.

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