Supporters defend quotas for foreigners
Parliamentarians backing an initiative to introduce quotas for foreigners have defended their proposals, ahead of a nationwide vote on the issue in September.
They are calling for the number of foreigners in Switzerland to be kept to 18 per cent of the population.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, supporters of the "18 per cent initiative" denied it would harm Swiss business or that it was xenophobic.
However, they admitted the initiative was unlikely to succeed, saying only 40 per cent of voters would cast their ballots in support of it.
Led by the Aargau parliamentarian, Philipp Müller, the initiative's supporters described Switzerland's policy towards foreigners as "an almost legendary failure". They said more than one million residence permits had been issued during the 1990s, with most going to people from countries outside the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Area.
They said that despite the recession of the 1990s, over 400,000 foreign workers had been employed in Switzerland during that decade, and this had cost Swiss business billions.
They added that Swiss companies had failed to "realise how business-friendly the initiative is".
One of the main criticisms of the initiative is that it would result in a "de facto" ban on the recruitment of foreign workers, because foreigners currently make up 19.3 per cent of the population. Swiss companies argue this would be detrimental in an already stretched labour market.
Müller's group rejected this argument, saying that, once the foreign population stabilised, 72,000 work permits could be issued every year, under the initiative.
They also brushed aside criticisms that the initiative would damage relations with the EU. Opponents say if the initiative were approved, EU member states would refuse to ratify a series of bilateral accords with Switzerland, including one governing the free movement of people.
Müller argued that studies have demonstrated that there will be "no massive influx into Switzerland". He said a maximum of 10,000 people could be expected to cross the border each year".
The press conference comes a day after the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper published a survey suggesting the initiative will be soundly defeated when it goes to a nationwide vote on September 21. The poll said half of all voters would reject the initiative, and only 29 per cent would vote "yes".
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