The conservative right Swiss People’s Party has received permission to begin collecting signatures for its initiative to cancel Switzerland’s free movement of people agreement with the European Union.
The Federal Chancellery has approved the initiative text, clearing the way for the signature-gathering phase to begin as of January 16, People’s Party President Albert Rösti told Swiss public television SRF on Friday.
“We’re convinced that immigration needs to be controlled in this country,” he said.
Supporters of the initiative will need to gather and validate at least 100,000 signatures within 18 months for it to come to a national vote.
It’s the People’s Party latest attempt to stem immigration to Switzerland from the European Union following a successful February 2014 referendum to place quotas on EU immigrants. Party representatives were unhappy with how the 2014 referendum was eventually put in place, arguing that measures giving priority to Swiss job seekers did not go far enough in introducing quotas.
A set of bilateral agreements governing the relationship between Switzerland and the 28-nation European Union bloc operate under a so-called “guillotine clause”. This means that if one agreement is cancelled, the remaining agreements also fall away.
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Christian Levrat, president of the leftwing Social Democratic Party, told SRF he welcomes efforts by the People’s Party to bring the long-debated issue of the free movement of people to a vote.
“This initiative will place the free movement question front and centre,” he said, arguing that the end of it and, as a result, other bilateral agreements with the EU would be “suicide” for a small country like Switzerland dependent on exports.