Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

EU warns Switzerland after anti-migrant vote

Swiss voters on Sunday (9 February) backed a call to cap migration from EU countries - a move which could trigger the exclusion of the wealthy Alpine country from the EU internal market.

The vote passed by a razor-thin majority of 50.3 percent, official results say.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Some 300,000 Germans live in the neighbouring country (Photo: lucijanblagonic)

The result mandates the Swiss government to negotiate, in the coming three years, migration "contingents" for EU citizens, other foreign students and workers, and refugees.

The move risks unravelling a Swiss-EU pact on people’s freedom of movement, which came into force 12 years ago as part of wider-ranging EU accords and which could be terminated en bloc if the referendum result is transposed into Swiss legislation.

"This is a turning point, a change of system with far-reaching consequences for Switzerland," Swiss justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga told journalists in Bern.

The European Commission said in a statement it will "examine" the potential consequences once the Swiss government makes clear what it plans to do.

EU commission spokesman Olivier Bailly also told Swiss journalists on Sunday that a renegotiation of free movement accord to include "contingents" is out of the question.

"Freedom of circulation is non-negotiable. You cannot negotiate freedom. Either it is applied to all persons or to nobody," he said.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding issued a similar warning.

"The four fundamental freedoms - free movement of people, goods, capital and services - are not separable. The single market is not a Swiss cheese. You cannot have a single market with holes in it,” she told the Financial Times.

Initiated by the right-wing and populist Swiss People's Party, the referendum reflects growing unease in rich European countries about immigration from poorer EU states.

The British government is highly vocal on the issue, while last month’s "Politbarometer” survey in Germany says Germans see it as the most important subject on the political agenda.

The breakdown of the Swiss vote sheds light on the nature of the anti-immigrant feeling, however: The cantons with the most immigrants voted against the initiative.

For his part, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble deplored the Swiss result.

“It will cause a lot of trouble for Switzerland,” he told German public broadcaster ARD.

He added that the anti-immigration mood cannot be easily dismissed, however. “It shows, of course, to some extent that in this globalised world people are increasingly uneasy about an unlimited freedom of movement. I think we should all take this seriously,” he said.

Estonian President Toomas Ilves noted that EU reaction itself shows bias.

Switzerland in 2012 already introduced restrictions for workers from “new” member states. But “the EU simply did nothing about it," Ilves said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the business community in Switzerland has expressed concern over the implications of the vote.

"Explanatory and constructive talks with the EU are needed urgently," the Swiss Banking Association said after the result came out.

Up to 80,000 migrants come yearly to Switzerland, with a large proportion of German citizens deciding to settle in the neighbouring, German-speaking country. Some 300,000 out of a total Swiss population of 8 million are Germans.

Swiss result sharpens EU immigration debate

As EU governments consider how to react to the Swiss referendum, opponents of immigration inside the Union claim the result represents widespread feeling in Europe.

Swiss eyeing EU research money despite referendum

Switzerland is pushing to be 'de facto' accepted in multi-billion EU programmes on science, but the EU commission says it would be illegal after Switzerland's anti-migration referendum.

News in Brief

  1. US officials call for J&J vaccine pause over blood clots
  2. Putin refuses to talk about military build-up, Ukraine says
  3. EU bank to help Greece manage corona-recovery funds
  4. Johnson & Johnson vaccine deliveries to EU begin
  5. EU sanctions commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard
  6. UK opens investigation into ex-PM Cameron lobbying
  7. 'Significant differences' in EU-UK talks on Northern Ireland
  8. Bulgarian PM reveals price rise in new EU-BioNTech deal

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. How the pandemic became an EU goldmine for crime
  2. China responds to 'low-efficacy' vaccine fears
  3. Merkel party chiefs support Laschet's chancellor bid
  4. EU refuses to bail out Montenegro's China loan
  5. Industry lobby to 'co-decide' on nearly €10bn EU public money
  6. Why Ursula von der Leyen won't go
  7. Incorporating gender in trade policy to benefit all
  8. Does Italian regionalism actually work?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us