People's Party votes against EU labour accord
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has voted against opening the Swiss labour market to the ten new European Union member states.
The move comes despite an appeal by Justice Minister and People’s Party figurehead Christoph Blocher for the party to follow the government’s line and support the accord.
At a meeting in La Chaux-de-Fonds on Saturday the People’s Party voted overwhelmingly against the accord by 297 votes to 94.
Most delegates followed the argument taken by parliamentarian Luzi Stamm, who warned of an “uncontrolled immigration” of people who wouldn’t understand Switzerland's system of direct democracy.
Others warned of a “collapse” of the Swiss social security system.
They were not swayed by Blocher’s arguments that the country should take the risk of joining the accord.
Parliamentarian Hermann Weyeneth also tried to convince party members to vote “yes”, by saying that the country needed the markets in eastern Europe for exports.
He added that there was a risk of companies moving abroad if the protocol was not accepted.
In December parliament voted to extend an existing agreement on the free movement of people to the new – and mostly eastern European – EU member states. The debates were marked at the time by opposition from the People’s Party.
Union leaders have since announced that they will not oppose the move, leaving rightwing parties as the main opponents to the accord.
On Saturday the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions reacted to the People's Party vote, saying it risked making Switzerland more isolated and jeopardised the bilateral accords with the EU.
The far-right Swiss Democrats have already announced that they are to mount a ballot-box challenge to the protocol on access to the Swiss labour market.
The People’s Party said on Saturday that it would support the gathering of the 50,000 signatures needed to force a nationwide vote on the parliamentary decision.
Also on Saturday, a demonstration by at least 250 people outside the People's Party meeting place, the Polyexpo-Halle in La Chaux-de-Fonds, was broken up by police.
The protest started peacefully, but police used water cannon and tear gas to break up the demonstration after stones were thrown.
swissinfo with agencies
At least 50,000 signatures are needed to force a nationwide vote on a parliamentary decision.
The signatures have to be collected within 100 days after the publication of the decision in the official government gazette.
The first vote is likely to be held next June.
The free movement of people came into force last June as part of the first set of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU.
An additional protocol calls for the inclusion of the ten new EU member states into this agreement.
The first bilateral accords cover 11 issues from taxation to agriculture, but the labour accord is the most controversial.
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