News / Europe

Europe Warns Swiss of Consequences After Immigration Vote

A sign is pictured at the Swiss French border with town of Ferney Voltaire in Le Grand-Saconnex near Geneva, Feb. 10, 2014. Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union.
A sign is pictured at the Swiss French border with town of Ferney Voltaire in Le Grand-Saconnex near Geneva, Feb. 10, 2014. Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union.
Reuters
Switzerland could lose its privileged access to the European single market, European officials said on Monday, after Swiss voters narrowly backed proposals to curtail immigration from the EU in a referendum that has unsettled business.

The vote on Sunday was initiated by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), which has tapped into concerns that Swiss culture is being eroded by foreigners, who account for nearly a quarter of the country's eight-million-strong population.

Immigration limits were vigorously opposed by Swiss industry and the government in Berne, which is now in the uncomfortable position of having to write the referendum result into law while limiting the backlash from Brussels and big neighbors like Germany and France.

"Switzerland has rather damaged itself with this result," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on arrival in Brussels for a meeting with his EU colleagues. "Switzerland must realize that cherry-picking with the EU is not a long-term strategy."

"There will be consequences, that's clear," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "You can't have privileged access to the European internal market and on the other hand, dilute free circulation."

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore called the result "very disturbing".

"I think we have seen throughout Europe a growth in what I can only call an extreme-right agenda which is quite xenophobic," he told reporters.

Free movement of people and jobs within its borders is one of the fundamental policies of the European Union, and Switzerland, while not a member of the 28-nation bloc, has participated under a pact with Brussels.

Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter addresses a news conference in Bern, Feb. 9, 2014.Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter addresses a news conference in Bern, Feb. 9, 2014.
x
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter addresses a news conference in Bern, Feb. 9, 2014.
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter addresses a news conference in Bern, Feb. 9, 2014.
Since 2002, Swiss and EU citizens have been able to cross the border freely and work on either side as long as they have a contract or are self-employed.

EU officials said the free movement treaty is part of a package of seven agreements that stand or fall together. The accords also cover economic and technological cooperation, public procurement, mutual acceptance of diplomas and licenses, agricultural trade, aviation, and road and rail traffic.

"We simply can't accept these kinds of restrictions, the ones that were approved yesterday," said European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde. "This will clearly have implications for the rest of the agreements we have with Switzerland."

Toxic Uncertainty

Businesses say the vote to reintroduce immigration quotas, backed by a margin of just 19,526 voters, threatens a Swiss economy that relies on the EU for nearly a fifth of workers.

Switzerland is home to food and beverage giant Nestle, drugmakers Novartis and Roche, as well as a host of major commodities dealers such as Glencore Xtrata and Louis Dreyfus Commodities.

Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss Employers Association, told the NZZ newspaper that the vote created a toxic uncertainty for Swiss business, already under pressure from a crackdown on bank secrecy and outcry over favorable tax rates some Swiss cantons offer multinationals.

"What's the point of investing in Switzerland, when in the end it's not certain whether you can get qualified staff to carry out your plans?" Vogt asked.

Swiss banks including UBS and Credit Suisse are especially dependent on the flow of foreign workers, employing up to 25 percent of staff from the EU.

Sindy Schmiegel of the Swiss Banking Association said the vote could reduce the pool of available workers for the industry making it "much more difficult" to meet staffing needs.

Real estate experts Jones Lang LaSalle said immigration curbs could also hit Swiss housing prices. They estimated foreigners accounted for 75 percent of the increase in residential housing since 2007.

Zuercher Kantonalbank downgraded two real estate stocks, Allreal and Mobimo, to underweight from market-weight on Monday in the wake of the vote.

Under the initiative, refugees and asylum seekers would be subject to the same quotas as other immigrants.

Some see a growing intolerance towards immigrants in Switzerland, which they blame on right-wing forces they say are using deep-seated fear of foreigners among some Swiss to win votes and garner support for restrictive policies.

The SVP, which has grown rapidly since the 1980s and is now the biggest party in parliament, has made opposition to immigration a key message.

Tightrope

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said on Sunday that the government planned to draft a law by the autumn.

It will have some flexibility as the referendum did not set specific quotas. But it will be walking a tightrope between respecting the vote and avoiding a backlash from Europe, where leaders are already worried about a surge in support for anti-immigration parties in European Parliament elections in May.

One option, according to University of St. Gallen political scientist Patrick Emmenegger, would be to tighten requirements on how quickly immigrants can bring their families to Switzerland, though he said it was unclear whether the EU would accept this.

Anger among parties that had opposed the vote was palpable on Monday, with the Swiss Liberal Democrats suggesting that Christoph Blocher, the billionaire industrialist and SVP lawmaker who poured his own money into the campaign, be sent to Brussels himself to explain the vote.

"He has an obligation to find a good solution, together with the other parties," the FDP said in a statement.

You May Like

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to the Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid