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Immigration quotas Swiss ambivalence towards immigration approach

Swiss voters are coming to terms with their 2014 vote to reimpose curbs on immigration for foreigners like this Spanish construction worker at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.

(Keystone)

A growing number of Swiss voters have mixed views towards immigration but would prefer to keep up agreements for the free movement of people in Europe, a new study finds.

The findings represent something of a reversal in the sentiment expressed in a nationwide vote last year to curb immigration.

On February 9, 2014, 50.3% of Swiss voters backed a plan supported by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens, putting an additional strain on bilateral relations between Brussels and Bern.

The cabinet had opposed the measure, and implementing the vote has become an immense headache for Swiss authorities.

Switzerland’s business elite has also warned that the new curbs on immigration could harm the country’s vaunted economic competitiveness. A Credit Suisse report estimated the Swiss economy could generate 80,000 fewer jobs over the next three years as a result.

Support but also ambivalence

Some 61% of Swiss voters now believe the benefits of Switzerland’s existing bilateral accords with the EU that guarantee the free movement of people outweigh the costs of imposing the mass immigration initiative, according to a telephone survey of 2,525 voters throughout Switzerland between October 19-31, conducted by the research institute gfs.bern.

In the latest survey, commissioned by Interpharma, a quarter of all respondents found both advantages and disadvantages with the EU accords – up from 16% in February of this year. Only 43% see virtually only benefits to the EU accords, down from 55% from the last such survey. Only 28% want the immigration curbs strictly applied.

The findings from five such surveys since September 2014 point to a rising ambivalence among Swiss voters about immigration more than any increase in criticism of the national vote, says the head of gfs.bern, political scientist Claude Longchamp, in a report by Zurich weekly NZZ am Sonntag, which published the survey.

A Swiss group, however, has been capitalising on the mixed sentiment towards the voter-backed immigration curbs. It handed in enough signatures to the Federal Chancellery in Bern in October to force a national vote that could reverse the initiative.

Unclear path ahead

The group “Raus aus der Sackgasse!” (RASA) – German for “out of the dead end” – collected 110,000 signatures, which is 10,000 more than is needed to bring an initiative to a nationwide vote.

Once the signatures are verified and the initiative is found to be valid, a vote date can be announced to decide whether Switzerland should revoke the re-introduction of immigration quotas. The group hopes Swiss citizens can cast their votes before February 9, 2017.

Lawmakers have until 2017 to try to reconcile the quotas with the EU accords that guarantee the free movement of workers. If they cannot accomplish that, the Swiss government will be forced to write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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