Campaigners have collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote on a proposal to slow down population growth through immigration limits and measures to promote birth control in developing countries.
The Environment and Population Association (Ecopop) on Friday handed in more than 120,000 signatures to the federal authorities. No date for the vote has been set yet.
The initiative committee wants to limit annual immigration to Switzerland to 0.2 per cent of the resident population. It also seeks to set aside ten per cent of the country’s annual aid funds to promote voluntary measures to encourage birth control in developing countries.
However, campaigners dismissed allegations by critics and some media that the initiative was aimed against foreigners or similar to measures used by Germany’s Nazi regime.
The Ecopop group argues it is an opportunity to have an open and democratic discussion about population growth.
The committee includes a former head of the Federal Environment Office as well as a retired professor at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology.
Environmental groups refused to support the committee, but local sections of the centre-left Green Party and the rightwing Swiss People’s Party helped collect signatures, the campaigners said.
Founded in 1971, Ecopop says its mission is to protect the environment by restricting immigration and slowing down population growth.
Last year, the People’s Party launched a separate initiative to re-introduce annual immigration quotas. The rightwingers collected more than 135,000 signatures.
They blame a key labour accord with the European Union for an increase in foreigners in Switzerland.
The party says unlimited immigration has a negative impact on the country’s infrastructure and its social security as well as on unemployment, rent and property prices.
Under Swiss law at least 100,000 signatures have to be collected within 18 months to force a nationwide ballot on an issue.
There are just over eight million people living in Switzerland, including 1.81 foreigners.
The foreign population in Switzerland has increased 3% in the past 12 months according to the Federal Migration Office.
Most of the immigrants come from European countries, notably from Italy, Germany, Portugal, France and Serbia.
At the end of last August, foreigners made up 22.7% of the total resident population.
swissinfo.ch and agencies