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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs