Swiss vote to set limits on immigration from EU

ZURICH Sun Feb 9, 2014 8:52pm GMT

A poster against the ''mass immigration initiative'' of the Swiss People's Party SVP is seen at the main train station in Zurich February 1, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

A poster against the ''mass immigration initiative'' of the Swiss People's Party SVP is seen at the main train station in Zurich February 1, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ruben Sprich

Related Topics



ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union, Swiss television reported - a result that calls into question bilateral accords with the EU and could irk multinational companies.

While neutral Switzerland is not a member of the EU, its immigration policy is based on free movement of citizens to and from the EU, with some exceptions, as well as allowing in a restricted number of non-EU citizens.

That pact on free movement of people, which came into force 12 years ago, was signed as part of a package of agreements with the EU, some of which could now be in danger of unravelling, to say nothing of the effect on a globally oriented economy that employs large numbers of foreign professionals.

"This is a turning point, a change of system with far- reaching consequences for Switzerland," Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told journalists in Berne.

The European Commission in Brussels said in a statement that the vote went against the principle of free movement of people. It said it would examine the implications for its relations with Switzerland, taking into account the position of the government, which had urged citizens to vote 'no'.

"For us, EU-Swiss relations come as a package," said Hannes Swoboda, a member of the European Parliament. "If Switzerland suspends immigration from the EU, it will not be able to count on all the economic and trade benefits it is currently enjoying. We will not allow ... cherry-picking."


In a nail-biting vote, 50.3 percent backed the "Stop mass immigration" initiative, which also won the required majority approval in more than half of Swiss cantons or regions, Swiss television said.

The outcome obliges the government to turn the initiative, spearheaded by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), into law within three years.

It reflects growing concern among the Swiss population that immigrants are eroding the nation's distinctive Alpine culture and contributing to rising rents, crowded transport and more crime.

Net immigration runs at around 70,000 people per year on average. Foreigners make up 23 percent of the population of 8 million, second in Europe only to Luxembourg.

"This is an enormously important decision because the direction must now be shifted," SVP politician Luzi Stamm told Swiss television. "The Swiss population have said that, instead of free movement of people, quotas have to be introduced."

The Swiss system of direct democracy - which allows for up to four national referenda per year - means popular dissatisfaction can be translated into action relatively easily.

However, such concerns are being echoed around the EU's wealthier countries, where anti-immigration parties such as the UK Independence Party look set to make big gains in elections to the European Parliament in May.

"I fear a 'yes' from Switzerland would set off a further round of debate about free movement of persons in the EU," European Parliament President Martin Schulz told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag ahead of the vote.

The provisions of the initiative require the restriction of residence permits for foreign nationals, including cross-border commuters and asylum seekers, according to quotas, the government said in a statement.

These limits will now need to be defined at a legislative level, it said.


Foreign professionals have helped to power Switzerland's economic success story over the past 150 years, from German-born Henri Nestle, who gave his name to the world's largest food company, to Nicolas Hayek senior, who founded Swatch Group, the world's biggest watchmaker.

The European Union is Switzerland's biggest trading partner, buying 110 billion Swiss francs' ($122 billion) worth of goods in 2013.

Opponents of the move say it could exacerbate a shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland, the home of Roche, Novartis, UBS and other multinationals filled with foreign professionals.

"Explanatory and constructive talks with the EU are needed urgently," the Swiss Banking Association tweeted after the result.

Swiss voters generally have a history of voting down proposals that they feel could hurt their country's economic success story or threaten its competitiveness.

Last year, they rejected a proposal to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of the company's lowest wage, amid warnings from industry leaders that the economy could suffer.

But immigration has become a growing concern. In 2009, Swiss voters defied government advice by backing a ban the construction of minarets, and in 2010 they voted to automatically deport foreigners convicted of serious crimes.

(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels and Caroline Copley in Zurich; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (4)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Sounds very sensible policy… Let in the people your country needs, decline the ones that you dont.

Well done the Swiss in common good sense.

Feb 09, 2014 11:03pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Relationships (successful relationships) are all about a little bit of give and take.

The EU appears to be far too rigid and far to inflexible in its approach to evolvement.

Perhaps those people who stick to rules like glue, need to unstick themselves before they get the EU unstuck.

Feb 09, 2014 11:23pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
hannum7 wrote:
by James Hannum, London

Globalization destroys all cultures. Massive immigration, a component of globalization, destroys both the immigrants’ cultures and the host country’s culture. In the US the mixture of cultures is called “the melting pot.” All public schools have taught this melting pot ideology for the last hundred years: America is the land were the world’s many cultures melted into the wonderful American culture. Yet America is known for its lack of culture, for the European and other cultures could not survive such a degree of melting and mixing. For some decades each nationality occupied its own towns or city sections. New York City still has an area called “Little Italy.” But when the politicians betrayed the blue collar workers and eliminated America’s 200 year old system of protective tariffs (tax barriers protecting local industry from cheap foreign competition, “Free trade,” or globalization, set in, destroyed the blue collar jobs, and destroyed the separate European communities. America became a place of high crime, decayed culture, low levels of morality, rampant materialism, and savage militarism.

Big corporation and banking financial elite (who have powerful lobbies in Wash. DC and Brussels who pass out Billions in campaign contributions, bribes, and supplements) want massive immigration, to supply low wage workers. Their lobbyists and captive corporate press (Media) try to convince W. Europeans that massive immigration is good for the countries. In fact, it is good only for the financial elite. The argument the Media and their marionette politicians use to convince the people to allow massive immigration, is the argument of racial equality and non-discrimination. This argument, however, is a false argument. Niederlands, as do all countries of the world, has the absolute right to limit or stop immigration; it is not racism or discrimination to do so. Think about it. Think for yourself, not what the mainstream media tells you. Racism and discrimination, by definition and practice, are THE TREATMENT OF ONE RACE BETTER THAN ANOTHER RACE.

Examples of racism are not hard to find in the World. Here is one: With help of the English, many European Jews, both before and after World War II, invaded Palestine, stole millions of homes, farms, and shops from the individual Palestinian owners who had owned and lived on them for millenniums. This was brazen and simple theft, they never paid anything for what they took. Since then the Palestinian people have lived as second class residents in their own country, now called by the world Israel. Israel’s apartheid policy of denying basic human rights to the Palestinians today, supported by the US and the EU, goes past stealing farms and properties; it treats the Palestinian people as a lower class than their Israeli overlords. The apartheid laws makes the Palestinians lives worse and their dignity suffer. THAT is an example of racism.

This is NOT racism: France limits immigration to 1,000, or eliminates it entirely. In this, France is not denying basic human rights to any of its residents, as the Israelis are. Nor is France denying human rights to non-residents (foreign citizens residing in their own countries)— For it is not a human right of one man to immigrate into the country of another. Each country belongs to its own citizens, not to the world at large. The streets, the jobs, the communities, all belong to the citizens of that country who created them. That is why we have borders, and that is why we have nationalities. The richness and strength of Europe throughout history has depended on their diversity of cultures, their differences, their sovereignty. The EU, as agents for the financial elite who seem to care about nothing but increasing their personal wealth, is very clever in its public relations, speeches, and media, to further their goal of corporatizing Europe into a consuming machine in the west and cheap labor, sweatshops, and plantations in the east. It is the EU and its elite overlords who are racist, not the people who oppose immigration.

Without its own unique culture and traditions, its language, ways of dress, manners, and a thousand other things, a country has no culture and no true communities. Such a country is instead like the Tower of Babel. The Bible says that it was Babel’s pride that led them to build ever skyward. It is our greed for cheap goods and our pride of claiming to be non-racists, that can lead to our decline. A little bit of immigration is good, it’s like spice. Too much immigration, like too much salt, destroys. The millions of immigrants we have should be treated courteously, with respect, and given full rights that they would have if they were white. In my opinion, we have had too much immigration, and it should be stopped, immediately brought to zero and remain there.

Feb 10, 2014 8:25am GMT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.