Immigration result a ‘slap in the face’ for Swiss right-wingers, say media

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) paper talked of a “painful defeat” for the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which won a referendum on immigration controls in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Sunday’s vote to reject curbs on EU immigration is a clear show of support for the free movement of workers and a “fiasco" for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, according to the Swiss press. But the vote does not secure the bilateral path with the EU, they add.

This content was published on September 28, 2020 minutes

On Sunday, 61.7% of Swiss voters rejected the People’s Party’s (SVP/UDC) proposal to shelve the two-decade-old agreement with Brussels on the free movement of people and regain full control of the country’s immigration policy.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) talked of a “painful defeat” for the SVP, which won a referendum on immigration controls in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation.

“The SVP leadership broke its back by attacking freedom of movement,” added the Tages-Anzeiger. This rejection by the Swiss “should give the party pause for thought: it has merged two of its favourite themes, immigration and relations with the EU, into a popular initiative. But it did not even manage to spark a debate.”

The Bern-based Bund newspaper said: “The Swiss have fewer problems with the Spanish, eastern Europeans and all other EU citizens who work and live here than the SVP claims. The clear endorsement of the free movement of persons shows that the unease is limited, whether it be competition in the workplace, urban sprawl or social welfare institutions.”

For the tabloid Blick, the biggest party in parliament had experienced “its biggest fiasco since [former minister and party guru] Christoph Blocher was ejected from the Federal Council in 2007”.

Tricky next stage

However, Blick said the ‘No’ vote “should not be interpreted” as support for the ongoing EU-Swiss negotiations to further regulate their future relationship.

Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, has a patchwork of 120 bilateral sectoral accords with the bloc, and the two sides have spent six years negotiating a so-called “institutional framework agreement” that would underpin them all. The talks are presently at an impasse.

In its editorial on Monday, the French-language daily Le Temps described the ‘No’ vote as “a plebiscite for the free movement of people” and a confirmation that “the bilateral way is the right strategy” with the EU.

But the next stage of the long-running talks promises to be much more complicated, it said. The EU wants to conclude a framework agreement with Bern as soon as possible. But three issues remain particularly problematic for the Alpine nation: wage protection, state aid, and the extent to which EU immigrants can benefit from the Swiss social system.

“Negotiations are expected to be tough,” said the editorial. “However, Switzerland's position has been strengthened by the clear rejection of the [People’s Party’s] initiative. The Federal Council, which has the broad support of the people, must make it clear to Brussels that it will not sign the agreement under just any conditions,” it said.

Temperature just 'dropped'

The Fribourg-based daily La Liberté echoed the difficulties ahead: “Like the weather, the political thermometer in Switzerland has suddenly dropped a few degrees and the [institutional framework] project on the table no longer convinces many people.”

NZZ said Sunday’s overwhelming rejection of curbs on EU immigration did not “secure the bilateral path”.

“The situation in European politics is paradoxical,” it wrote in an editorial. “Switzerland has confirmed the free movement of persons and the bilateral agreements for the umpteenth time. Yet there is a lack of basic consensus between Bern and Brussels on the future of the relationship.”

“For the EU, there is probably only one lesson to be learned from Sunday: Switzerland always needs two or even more attempts. It is a tedious but reliable partner long term.”

Online poll on framework deal

According to an online pollExternal link published on September 28, one Swiss citizen in three wants clarification of the framework agreement with the European Union (EU).

One in five people who were surveyed wants new negotiations with the EU on the framework accord, while 18% of those polled say the current draft should be scrapped. Only 16% say it should be ratified in its current form, according to the online survey of 15,000 people carried out by Tamedia.

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