Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Swiss voters to decide on EU immigration pact

Opponents say the plan would rob businesses of skilled workers

A man carries a poster of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that states ‘Enough is enough!’ during a meeting of the party’s delegates in Brugg, Switzerland. EPA
A man carries a poster of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that states ‘Enough is enough!’ during a meeting of the party’s delegates in Brugg, Switzerland. EPA

Voters in Switzerland are set to decide on Sunday whether to annul a pact with the European Union on the free movement of people, an important test of attitudes towards foreigners, who make up a quarter of the country’s population.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – the biggest in parliament – has led the charge to take back control of immigration, echoing some of the arguments pro-Brexit politicians used in the run-up to Britain’s exit from the bloc.

But a poll for policy research company gfs.bern found 63 per cent of respondents oppose the SVP proposal and 35 per cent support it, suggesting voters want stability at a time of economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

The SVP has painted a gloomy picture of young foreigners supplanting older Swiss, house price increases, overcrowded schools and transport, and construction running wild.

Opponents say the plan would rob businesses of skilled workers and torpedo accords that enhance non-EU member Switzerland’s access to the bloc’s single market.

A “guillotine clause” means ending free movement would topple other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, research and technical barriers to trade.

The country had 2.1 million resident foreigners in 2019. Sixty-eight per cent of these were citizens of EU states, or of Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein, which like Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association. More than 450,000 Swiss citizens live in the EU.

Should the referendum drive fail, as is expected, the government can turn to its biggest foreign policy headache – a stalled treaty that would cement ties with the bloc but which critics say infringes too much on Swiss sovereignty.

Updated: September 27, 2020 07:23 PM

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email