Christoph Blocher, the strongman of the political right, has called for limits on foreigners’ social benefits as well as quotas to be implemented as part of the anti-immigration initiative. The initiative is currently in deadlock after disagreements with the European Union.
Blocher made his comments in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper. He said the benefit restrictions were aimed at foreigners “who stay in the country without working”.
“A person will have to have worked for at least a year in Switzerland to get unemployment benefits,” said the former cabinet minister and millionaire, who is a leading strategist in the conservative right Swiss People’s Party. Welfare payments should also be restricted, he said.
The party, which is the largest in Switzerland, was behind the controversial initiative, narrowly approved two years ago, to limit influxes of foreigners from EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. The quotas, cap on benefits and priority for Swiss nationals were set out in the initiative.
But the EU says that curbing immigration would violate its key policy of the free movement of people, to which non-EU member Switzerland has signed up via bilateral accords.
The Swiss cabinet is therefore in the seemingly impossible position of implementing the initiative without jeopardising the EU bilateral accords. It has thus proposed a unilateral safeguard clause that would limit free access to the labour market if immigration exceeds a certain threshold, should it fail to reach a deal with the EU. Further proposals include making better use of the resident workforce.
However talks with Brussels have stalled because the EU is preoccupied with the “Brexit” vote on Britain staying in or leaving the EU on June 23. The Swiss government is under pressure because it has until February 2017 to implement the anti-immigration initiative.
Quotas or not?
Blocher was still in favour of quotas in his interview, but his daughter, Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, the new People’s Party economy chief, took a more nuanced view.
The politician, who is also CEO of the Blocher family chemical business, told Schweiz am Sonntag that the party was looking for an economy-friendly solution. Companies should be able to get the workers they need without too much red tape, she said.
When asked if the party was prepared to forego quotas and thresholds, she answered: “We don’t want to set down any numbers, but want an implementation of the initiative that leads to less immigration”.
Martullo-Blocher said quotas were needed for “extreme situations in case the priority for nationals doesn't work and immigration gets out of control.”
According to the Schweiz am Sonntag, politicians from the political right and centre are aware of the time pressure and are keen to form an alliance behind the scenes over the anti-immigration initiative. The parliamentary summer session is due to start on Monday.