Saturday

24th Aug 2019

Swiss voters reject immigration cap

  • The Swiss system of direct democracy allows legally binding referendums to be held if 100,000 people sign a petition (Photo: Thomas Woodtli)

Switzerland has rejected a plan to cut net immigration to no more than 0.2 percent of the population, following a referendum on Sunday (30 November).

Seventy-four percent of voters from the country's 26 cantons voted against the proposal, which would have required the government to legislate for a huge cut in the annual number of migrants entering the country from 80,000 to 16,000 people a year.

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The referendum was the second public vote on capping migration this year. In February voters decided to impose immigration quotas for EU citizens from 2017, effectively calling for Switzerland’s free movement agreement with the bloc to be scrapped.

The Swiss system of direct democracy allows legally binding referenda to be held if 100,000 people sign up to a petition.

The proposal was not supported by any of Switzerland’s main political parties, but was spearheaded by ecology group Ecopop, which argued that the cap was necessary to protect Switzerland’s environment and to prevent overcrowding.

The campaign group estimates that current rates of immigration would push the Swiss population to 12 million by 2050.

In a further twist on the theme of population control, the initiative called for 10 percent of Switzerland's overseas aid budget to be spent on family-planning projects in developing countries.

Ecopop campaigner Benno Buehler told the BBC that Switzerland’s population had grown “50 percent faster than the UK for example, and about five times faster than the European community as a whole," which, he added, was “not sustainable”.

Business groups and political leaders had warned that further curbs on migration would deplete the size of the Swiss workforce, causing damage to the country’s economy.

The government had also urged voters to oppose the new cap, which it said would imperil the ongoing negotiations with the EU following February’s referendum.

A record 66,200 EU citizens emigrated to Switzerland in 2013, the highest number since a free movement agreement with the bloc came into force in 2002.

Nearly a quarter of Switzerland’s 8 million population are foreigners, of whom more than a million are EU citizens. Another 230,000 EU citizens cross the border daily for work.

Two other plebiscites were also rejected by voters on Sunday. One on forcing the central bank to boost its gold reserves and another which sought to scrap a tax perk for wealthy foreigners who live but do not work in the Alpine country.

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.

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