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Back to the ballot box? Blocher mulls new initiative to reduce immigration

Christoph Blocher insists on limits for foreign workers

(Keystone)

Switzerland’s biggest party, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, is considering launching a new initiative to end the free movement of people with the European Union, its figurehead Christoph Blocher has told Swiss newspapers.

“If we see that the law to implement [a 2014 vote to curb immigration] does not massively reduce immigration, the People’s Party will launch an initiative to end the free movement of peopleexternal link,” Blocher said in an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger published on Saturday.

A parliamentary commission on Friday rejected the government’s threat to impose unilateral quotas on foreigners next year – which it said would violate free movement and put at risk Switzerland’s bilateral treaties with the EU – in favour of a compromise based on a hiring preference for local people.

All the main Swiss political parties back the compromise apart from the People’s Party, which insists that quotas must feature in the implementation of the 2014 immigration initiative. The suggested measures, it says, “blatantly contradict” the will of the people.

Asked whether the People’s Party would resort to a referendum to overthrow the new law that still needs to pass both chambers of parliament, Blocher said: “A victory in a referendum is worthless. We’d be back at the starting point, the current situation would still be valid. That would not be worth the effort.”

He reiterated earlier statements saying, in a separate interview with Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), he did not expect the European Union to cancel bilateral agreements even if the Swiss decide to end free movement.

Another initiative by Blocher's opponents is pending in parliament.

They handed in enough signatures last October to force an nationwide vote with a proposal to overturn the result of the February 2014 ballot.

Squaring a circle

The Swiss government has been trying to find a solution to a seemingly impossible situation since February 9, 2014, when 50.3% of Swiss voters approved a People’s Party initiative to impose limits on the number of workers allowed into Switzerland from EU and EFTA countries. Parliament then had three years to implement this, in other words by February 9, 2017.

The problem, as Brussels was quick to point out, is that curbing immigration in Switzerland would violate an agreement on the free movement of people, one of the EU’s central tenets that Switzerland signed on to in 2002 as part of a package of bilateral accords.

Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, will meet Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, on September 19 for further talks. Whether the EU could accept the Swiss giving priority to Swiss job hunters remains to be seen. 

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