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EU immigration Germany’s president questions Swiss voting system

German President Joachim Gauck, left, greets his Swiss counterpart Didier Burkhalter during an official visit


German President Joachim Gauck has criticised the Swiss system of direct democracy, calling it “dangerous when citizens vote on highly complex issues” in reference to the decision by the Swiss in February to curb immigration.

On the first day of his two-day state visit to Switzerland, Gauck held talks with this year’s Swiss president, Didier Burkhalter and Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga.

Burkhalter countered Gauck’s criticism by emphasising that direct democracy is a cornerstone of Swiss culture and brings with it the necessity to accept when the majority votes against the advice of the government.

For her part, Sommaruga said efforts to implement the decision at the ballot box to re-introduce quotas for foreigners – including EU citizens - were well under way and needed to be implemented in the next three years. However, she also underlined that the free movement of people agreement between Switzerland and the EU would remain unchanged for the time being, until a new immigration system enters into force.  

In an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper coinciding with his visit, Gauck said he and his countrymen “respect the democratic decision” made by the Swiss with regard to EU immigration. He added that he didn’t want to see Switzerland and Brussels drift apart and that he hoped the Swiss could find a way to preserve the close economic and social ties between their countries and the 28-member bloc.

He added that Switzerland has always played a unifying role in Europe because of its multilingualism and that relations between Switzerland and Germany “have traditionally been very good”.

“Discussions in past years over fiscal or other issues haven’t changed anything,” he said, in part referring to an ongoing feud over banking secrecy.

Research co-operation also came up during Gauck’s visit. He will travel to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva on Wednesday, a project which Germany helped along with significant funding.

Germany and Switzerland are also key partners in other Europe-wide research projects like the Human Brain Project being carried out at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology. The February 9 immigration vote has also placed in question Switzerland’s continued funding from EU research initiatives. and agencies

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