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Initiative conundrum Cabinet makes U-turn on immigration initiative

Sommaruga said the Swiss government has never faced a similar legal quandary with partly contradicting initiatives on the same issue 

(Keystone)

The government has decided not to present a proposal that would have countered an initiative seeking to reverse a decision by Swiss voters in 2014 re-introducing immigration quotas for citizens from the European Union.

Explaining the policy U-turn, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said most political parties, major organisations and the country’s cantons had rejected the government's choice of two proposals presented last December.

“The cabinet has to be realistic and take into account the result of the consultation procedure,” she told a news conference on Wednesday.

Sommaruga reiterated the government’s opposition to the initiative, dubbed Out of the Dead End, which collected the necessary signatures to force another nationwide vote on the issue. She said the government wanted to be able to control the influx of foreign labour.

She said the Out of the Dead End initiative had served its purpose while parliament last December agreed on implementing the immigration restrictions by giving Swiss residents priority on the labour market.

However, it is not clear whether the campaigners are ready to withdraw their initiative, which was handed in seven months ago.

In April, an attempt to challenge parliament's implementation of the immigration initiative to a referendum failed as campaigners were unable to collect enough signatures.

More votes

Regardless, Swiss voters are still likely to have the final say on immigration curbs and relations with the EU over the next few years.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Partyexternal link, which masterminded the immigration restrictions, announced it would launch a new initiative to cancel a bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people.

There are also reports about plans for a constitutional amendment, forbidding employers from hiring foreign labour if unemployment is above 3.5% in Switzerland.

Sommaruga also mentioned a third rightwing initiative likely to come to a nationwide vote in the near future. The People’s Party wants the Swiss constitution to override international treaties – including a set of bilateral treatiesexternal link between non-EU member Switzerland and the 28-nation bloc.

The party has strongly criticised parliament for failing to implement the immigration restriction to the letter.

The government and a majority in parliament argue it is impossible to reconcile the immigration curbs with international obligations, as the EU has not been willing to compromise on the free movement of people principle.

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