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Free movement impact

Cautious European reaction to Swiss vote

Swiss voters decided they want to be left alone (Keystone)

Swiss voters decided they want to be left alone


There have been mixed reactions across Europe to Swiss voters’ approval of planned immigration restrictions. The European Union and ambassadors to Bern of members countries regretted the decision, but warned against hasty conclusions.

The European Commission in a terse statement said the result of the vote went against the accord on the free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland.

“The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole. In this context the position of the Swiss government on the result will also be taken into account.”

The free movement of people agreement is part of a package of bilateral treaties that came into force in 2002 and which is gradually being extended to the 28 EU member bloc.

Further deals, notably on electricity and on an institutional framework for the future of the bilateral accords, were scheduled in the next few months. However, it is not clear whether Brussels will give the green light for formal negotiations next week or on the conclusion of talks currently underway.

It is also uncertain whether Swiss voters will decide on a proposal to extend the free movement of people between Switzerland and Croatia, which joined the EU last July.

Swiss abroad

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) said the outcome of the vote undermined the free movement of people accord which is crucial for Swiss expats living in EU member states.

“The approval of the initiative could put into question the equal treatment of Swiss citizens and EU citizens. Indeed the Swiss abroad have benefited directly as they could work and settle in EU countries and their diplomas were automatically recognised.”

There are 732,000 registered Swiss citizens abroad and nearly 453,000 live in an EU country.

The German and Italian ambassadors to Switzerland, Otto Lampe and Cosimo Risi, both regretted the outcome of the vote.

“All the same, we hope that relations between the EU and Switzerland will develop and remain as close as possible,” Lampe told


Risi for his part added that the result could have an impact on other bilateral accords as they are directly linked to the free movement accord. However, consequences remain uncertain of bilateral accords on transport, aviation, and goods and services.

“I don’t think that there will be sanctions by the EU. But Brussels will now consider the future of its relations with Switzerland,” he said.

Germany and Italy are Switzerland’s main export markets.

Antoine Vieillard, a regional parliamentarian of the French department of Haute Savoie bordering Switzerland, was more pessimistic.

He said he feared that other bilateral accords with Switzerland could be suspended.

“This vote puts into question the bilateral relations with the EU. How can we deal with a country that does not respect accords it has signed?”

Britain’s Eurosceptics

Clive Church, former professor of European Studies at Kent University in southern England, believes that the result will make people in Britain talk about Switzerland.

“People will been keen to see how the EU reacts to the Swiss result,” he told

Church says the result will win the applause from Eurosceptics to the right and anti-migration forces in Britain.

“They will say it shows there is a deep popular concern and it will strengthen their pressure for tougher immigration controls.”

He said that some people have looked at Switzerland as a model for relations with Brussels, “but the vote has probably destroyed that model.”

Church also says that the result in Switzerland will increase alarm within the business world of threats to the single market in Britain and could have an impact on their attitude towards the forthcoming independence vote by Scotland in September.

Official result

Immigration quotas:
50.3% Yes 49.7% No

Turnout: 55.8%

About 165,000 citizens, notably Swiss expatriates, were eligible to vote online as part of an ongoing trial with e-voting.

28,785 people, or 17.4%, cast their ballot electronically.


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