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Swiss Set to Reject ‘Worse Than Brexit’ Immigration Measure

This content was published on September 16, 2020 - 07:19

(Bloomberg) -- Swiss voters look set to reject a proposal to cap immigration from European Union countries, allowing the country to avoid major tensions with its biggest trading partner.

Just 35% support the measure to reintroduce immigration quotas, while opposition is at 63%, according to a poll by gfs.bern for national broadcaster SRG published on Wednesday. Along with measures on paternity leave, the purchase of fighter jets and hunting, the proposal is due for a national vote on Sept. 27.

If passed, it could lead to a rancorous dispute with Brussels, like Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Immigration is part of a broader set of agreements between Switzerland and the EU, including transport, public procurement and mutual recognition of technical standards for industrial goods.

In case of a majority, the government would be forced to end the current practice of allowing people from EU countries to live and work in Switzerland without special permission.

A quarter of the its 8.5 million inhabitants aren’t citizens, and critics say the high influx of newcomers has caused a housing crunch, overcrowded public transport and is exerting downward pressure on wages.

Immigration Quotas

The plebiscite is a bid by the euro-skeptic Swiss People’s Party to force-through immigration quotas that were decided in a 2014 vote but never implemented. Worried about the economic impact, parliament at the time decided on a softer regime that gave locals a leg up on job vacancies.

Yet unlike six years ago, immigration isn’t firing up the electorate now, partly because the influx of newcomers is lessening.

Credit Suisse Group AG expects net immigration next year to fall below 50,000 persons for the first time since 2007. Retiring baby boomers are also expected to leave a large gap in the labor market that will need to be filled with foreign recruitment, it said.

Switzerland’s government has also campaigned against the propposed curbs. Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told newspaper SonntagsZeitung in August that canceling the free movement provision would be “worse than Brexit.”

The government argues that companies rely on foreign labor and that simply canceling the open-door agreement with the EU will deal another blow to the economy.

Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung calculated last year that the aggregate welfare benefit of the single market for Switzerland amounted to 24 billion euro ($29 billion) a year -- more of a gain than for Germany on a per capita basis.

Paternity Leave

According to the gfs.bern survey, voters are in favor of a proposal that will see new Swiss dads join counterparts in Germany, France and Austria and enjoy the privilege of paid paternity leave. Sixty-one percent of respondents support paid time off for new fathers, compared with 35% opposed, the poll showed.

Fathers will get two weeks off at 80% of their average pay if the poll turns out to be correct. Maternity leave in Switzerland is 14 weeks, also at 80% pay.

(Updates with Credit Suisse forecast in eighth paragraph.)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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