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

As AIDS Epidemic Matures, Workplaces Adapt

Issue of AIDS in workplace is one of many social issues being discussed at the 20th International Aids Conference in Australia More

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid