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

Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Unlikely Before Monday

Tension builds over possible indictment of white police officer in shooting death of black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current Russian-backed rebels’ fight in east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid