Government heavyweights speak out against quotas for foreigners

Cabinet ministers, Pascal Couchepin and Ruth Metzler, led the government's attack on the initiative Keystone

The government has launched its offensive against a proposal to introduce quotas for foreigners. On Friday, two cabinet ministers warned of the detrimental consequences of the initiative, which goes to a nationwide vote on September 24.

This content was published on August 18, 2000 - 15:26

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said the proposal would solve none of Switzerland's problems, and would only serve to damage the economy and Switzerland's standing in the world.

Next month, Swiss voters will cast their ballots on the "18 per cent initiative" - a plan to keep the number of foreigners in Switzerland to 18 per cent of the population. Currently, foreigners make up 19.3 per cent.

Metzler said a yes vote to the initiative would be "detrimental to Switzerland and all its people". Couchepin described as "absurd" any attempt to place an "arbitrary" quota on the number of foreigners.

The ministers concentrated their fire on the economic and diplomatic issues surrounding the initiative. Metzler said it would damage Switzerland's humanitarian tradition and set back efforts to improve relations between foreigners and native Swiss.

Metzler said foreigners had made an important contribution to Switzerland's economic success for over 100 years. "Without foreigners there would be no Gotthard tunnel," she said, referring to the railway tunnel built in 19th century which provided the first major north-south link through the Alps.

Couchepin said business would be particularly hard hit by a skills shortage, and that the recently approved bilateral accords with the European Union would be called into question. He added that foreigners had helped to make Swiss companies such as Nestlé and ABB.

The ministers used the occasion to put in a good word for the government's proposed new law governing policy towards foreigners. Launched in the wake of the campaign for the 18 per cent initiative, the law would make it tougher for non-EU citizens to come to Switzerland.

Supporters of the 18 per cent initiative have already denied that Swiss business would suffer or that the bilateral accords would be jeopardised.

They admit, though, that a yes vote is unlikely. The most recent survey, in the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper two weeks ago, suggested that half of all voters would reject the initiative, and only 29 per cent would vote "yes".

swissinfo with agencies

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