Swiss voters' clear rejection of immigration restrictions has left the government with options to renegotiate its fractured relationship with the European Union, Swiss newspapers concluded on Monday.
Just under 26% of voters came out in favour of the initiative aiming to reduce Switzerland’s ecological footprint, according to final results on Sunday. Three out of four voters rejected the Ecopop initiative, which most newspapers and commentators swiftly renamed “Ecoflop”.
Like most newspapers, the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger highlighted the prevailing relief after the clear rejection of the Ecopop initiative. Switzerland now still has options left to negotiate its relationship with the EU and break a deadlock on immigration limits, it said, and did not send yet another sign of xenophobia into the world.
The cabinet can now start to find ways to implement the immigration limits for EU citizens approved by Swiss voters in February. Thanks to the clear rejection of Ecopop on Sunday the Geneva-based Le Temps said the Swiss population would be able to “glue some of the pots it broke in February”.
The daily newspaper Blick called the rejection of the Ecopop initiative an “act of liberation”, allowing the cabinet to start negotiations with the EU right away. Blick wrote that the cabinet “should quickly convince the EU to renegotiate the free movement of people with Switzerland and then to accelerate negotiations fully.”
On Sunday, the Swiss also rejected an initiative calling for the Swiss National Bank to increase its gold reserves and a proposal calling for an end to tax breaks for wealthy foreigners. In a comment about all three votes on Sunday the Blick said that “Switzerland is the winner”.
“The Swiss voters want to be able to control immigration themselves, as they had made it known at the beginning of the year, but they do not want any drastic changes that may seriously affect the economy, prosperity and the welfare state,” Blick wrote.
In an editorial entitled “Latent protest potential” the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote that the outcome showed again that Swiss voters are in favour of federalism and bilateralism, but also that they are latently unhappy and their trust in the authorities is anything but infinite.
Room to manoeuvre
According to the NZZ, the rejection of the Ecopop initiative shows that Swiss voters are not interested in ending the bilateral agreements with the EU. “It would have been fatal if the sovereign had robbed the cabinet of all the room for manoeuvering required to find a solution with the EU.”
The Tages-Anzeiger said that the government was now left with February's narrowly approved immigration curbs, a vote outcome that has made Switzerland’s relationship with the EU complicated enough. The newspaper expects the cabinet to explain more clearly how it plans to introduce the immigration quotas.
“Up until now the government was ambiguous and vague in its comments on the implementation, because it quite obviously intended not to give the Ecopop initiative additional support,” the Tages-Anzeiger wrote.
One possibility is that it may widen the room for manoeuvering so it can find a solution where it can introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens without calling them just that, the paper wrote.
The EU may also accept a permanent regulation of immigration through the so-called guillotine clause, as other countries within the EU are also calling for immigration restrictions. The EU currently only accepts immigration regulation on a temporary basis.
The other possibility for Switzerland is to completely renegotiate its relationship with the EU, but this option is far from certain, the Tages-Anzeiger said.
The free daily paper 24heures saw the defeat of Ecopop as a “scathing backlash” following the February 9 vote, indicating a change of direction. The “dangerous and inconsistent” text “has been thrown in the only destination possible: the trash bin”. Reason won out because Switzerland got a fright, the Lausanne-based newspaper wrote.
The Tribune de Genève said the results show that the people were not threatened by intimidation and slogans. One should not over-interpret the results, however, because “the people will not tolerate that the new immigration caps be called into question”.
La Liberté concluded that the vote result in November “fights the flames kindled in February, but does not manage to put out the blaze”. Still, it is a step of reconciliation between the people and the vast majority of politicians, who had recommended a rejection.
Swiss citizens do not want a total closure of their borders, but they also have not buried the idea of regulated immigration, Le Matin wrote. It also raised the question of whether it was reason or intimidation which spoke out at the ballot boxes.