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Prominent Swiss party prepares for new immigration vote

One of Switzerland’s largest and most influential political parties says it may call for a national re-vote on an initiative to curb immigration.

Philipp Müller, the president of the centre-right Radical Party, says an alternative to the people’s initiative that was narrowly approved in February 2014 has been prepared that could be voted on nationwide if the cabinet cannot find a way to implement the current initiative in a way that is compatible with European Union accords on the free movement of people.

The cabinet’s current efforts to introduce immigration quotas in 2017, including for cross-border workers, are a “bad number”, Müller said in an interview published on Sunday in the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung. Cuts in immigration are possible but simply to pick a number “would be irresponsible”, he added.

“One has to ask whether it wouldn't be better to have an alternative vote so that we could choose between strict enforcement, which would mean the end of the Bilateral I agreements, or an implementation that is consistent with our concept of “tough but fair,” Müller said, referring to EU-Swiss bilateral agreements that affect the movements of thousands of workers.

The people's initiative “against mass immigration” was put forward by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party. It runs contrary to EU policy, which “considers that the free movement of persons is a fundamental pillar of EU policy and that the internal market and its four freedoms are indivisible”, according to a statement from EU ministers in December 2014.

For the Radical Party, the people’s initiative jeopardizes Switzerland’s role on the international stage and could undermine the interests of Swiss abroad on issues ranging from double taxation to reciprocity to naturalization. The party is one of the largest in parliament and claims two of the country’s seven ministers who comprise the cabinet.

Müller says a new referendum, if there is one, should occur no later than November 27, 2016. The alternative that his party has prepared, he says, includes a set of measures to fight abuses with the free movement of people and a "rapid and coherent application in the field of asylum".

Brussels’ chief negotiator with Switzerland also has rejected negotiations on the free movement of people and predicted that a new Swiss vote is “inevitable” before the end of 2016.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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