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Swiss migration limit: gruyère or guillotine?

Jonathan Lindsell, 11 February 2014

50.3 per cent of Swiss voters, and a majority of the cantons, have voted in favour of new quotas on immigration. This includes EU immigration, so implies a serious shift in relations between landlocked Switzerland and all her neighbours.

The Swiss gained access to EU markets over 11 years ago in a series of bilateral agreements that included the EU’s ‘Four Freedoms’ other than agriculture and services.  Anti-immigration initiatives have been led by the burgeoning ‘ultraconservative’ Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The SVP points to the small country’s recent population growth, based mainly on EU workers, as causing strains on trains, healthcare and low-wage jobs. They also suggest French, German and Italian workers have increased crime levels.

Roughly 45 per cent of skilled employees in Switzerland’s key industries – chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology – are from abroad. The big hitters such as Nestlé, Roche, and Novartis are spooked by the referendum results. Essentially, rural cantons and the Italian-speaking region Ticino backed the quota, while urban areas that experience much higher migration (Zurich, Basel, Geneva) were less hostile. [See here]

Today’s Financial Times echoed Novartis’ fears: ‘Switzerland inflicts a wound on itself…restricting EU migrants will damage economy’. However, commentators point out that the details of the quotas have not been announced, and Switzerland will have three years to negotiate them with Brussels. It is likely that they may restrict low-skill jobs (barkeepers, chalet staff) while keeping the doors open to multinational bankers, chemists and engineers.

However, the vote could put Switzerland’s access to the single market in jeopardy. Their bilateral treaties contain a ‘guillotine clause’ that invalidates each agreement if any part of that agreement is breached. EU dignitaries have been talking tough, especially as relations were already strained after German and Italian governments pressed Swiss banks to change secrecy rules to stop their citizens avoiding taxation.

The German President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said Switzerland could not expect to pick and choose which agreements it kept with the EU. The Commission has already reacted, suspending talks about cross-border electricity trading. There were a variety of food-based metaphors in Europe’s reactions:

“Switzerland has to know that cherry picking in relations with the EU can’t be a lasting strategy.”
– German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“We can’t work a la carte. They have to accept the entirety of the European accords.”
– Didier Reynders, Belgian Foreign Minister.

“The single market is not a Swiss cheese – you cannot have a single market with holes in it”.
– EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

Meanwhile Open Europe’s Mats Persson noted the danger of a  ‘pick and mix’ approach.

Whatever fodder takes your fancy, British gastrophiles should pay close attention to the changing rules of the central European restaurant. On the one hand, heads may roll. On the other, a Swiss feast may point the way to a British banquet.


Update 13.02.14: The Swiss government has announced it will present formal plans for implementing the immigration quota by June 2014. The European Commission’s President, Jose Manuel Barroso,  broke the run of food-based analogies when he told Reuters ‘It’s certainly more important for Switzerland to have access to [the EU market]…than for the EU to have access to Switzerland.’

1 comment on “Swiss migration limit: gruyère or guillotine?”

  1. The Swiss political elite are, as our own political elite are, Quislings in the service of internationalism. They will do everything possible to circumvent this result. A likely scenario is for another referendum to be held . This would not have to be citizen initiated referendum. It could be a compulsory one based on a claim that the change in the immigration law had constitutional implications,

    The relevant Swiss Constitution Articles run as follows:

    Article 140 Mandatory Referendum
    (1) The People and the Cantons are voting on the following:
    a. the revisions of the Constitution;
    b. the entry into organizations for collective security or into supranational communities;
    c. the federal statutes declared urgent without constitutional basis and with validity exceeding one year; such federal statutes have to be submitted to the vote within one year after their adoption by the Federal Parliament.
    (2) The People are voting on the following:
    a. the popular initiatives for total revision of the Constitution;
    b. the popular initiatives for partial revision of the Constitution in the form of a general suggestion which were rejected by the Federal Parliament;
    c. the question if a total revision of the Constitution is to be carried out with disagreement of both chambers.

    But even if it was not a mandatory referendum, bearing in mind the closeness of the result just obtained it would probably be easy to get enough voters to petition for a citizen initiated referendum, viz:

    Article 139 Formulated Popular Initiative for Partial Revision of the Constitution
    (1) 100 000 citizens entitled to vote may within 18 months of the official publication of their formulated initiative demand a partial revision of the Constitution.
    (2) A popular initiative for the partial revision of the Constitution may take the form of a general proposal or of a specific draft of the provisions proposed.
    (3) If the initiative violates the principle of unity of form, the principle of unity of subject matter, or mandatory rules of international law, the Federal Parliament declares it invalid, in whole or in part.
    (4) If the Federal Assembly is in agreement with an initiative in the form of a general proposal, it drafts the partial revision on the basis of the initiative and submits it to the vote of the People and the Cantons. If the Federal Assembly rejects the initiative, it submits it to a vote of the People; the People decide whether the initiative is adopted. If they vote in favour, the Federal Assembly drafts the corresponding bill.
    (5) The initiative in the form of a specific draft is submitted to the vote of the people and the Cantons. The Federal Parliament recommends the initiative for adoption or rejection. It may contrast the initiative with a counterproposal.

    Article 139a { abolished }

    Article 139b Procedure for Initiative With Counterproposal
    (1) The voters cast their ballot at the same time for initiative and counterproposal.
    (2) They may vote in favor of both proposals. Regarding the priority question, they may select which proposal they prefer if both are accepted.
    (3) If the priority question results in one proposal to receive more votes of the people and the other more votes of the Cantons, that proposal is set into force that has the highest sum of voter’s percentage points in popular vote plus cantonal vote.

    Article 141 Optional Referendum
    (1) On the demand by 50’000 citizens entitled to vote or 8 Cantons, within 100 days of the official publication, the following instruments are submitted to the vote of the People:
    a. Federal Statutes;
    b. Federal Statutes declared urgent with a validity exceeding one year;
    c. Federal decrees to the extent the Constitution or the law provides for it;
    d. International treaties which:
    1. are of unlimited duration and may not be terminated;
    2. provide for the entry into an international organization;
    3. include important legislative provisions or require the adoption of federal Statutes.
    (2) { abolished }

    It is all too easy to imagine a Swiss electorate browbeaten with dire warnings of what will happen if the Swiss do not fall into line with EU policy voting to reverse the decision.


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