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Post anti-immigration vote Swiss billionaire may fund new bilateral initiative

Wyss said during the February vote some people had been stirring up 'imaginary fears' about Switzerland's future

(Keystone)

Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss says he would be prepared to finance an initiative to consolidate Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the European Union as a solution to the controversial February 9 vote curbing immigration from Europe. 

The 79-year-old entrepreneur, reportedly worth CHF11 billion ($11.5 billion), told Swiss public radio he would be ready to fund an initiative campaign on the bilateral accords if it was organised by an organisation like the Swiss Business Federation. 

“The vote of February 9 has only caused problems,” said Wyss. “Our young children need international collaboration, without which they have no chance.” 

Wyss, who made part of his fortune selling artificial joint maker Synthes to Johnson & Johnson in 2011 for over $21 billion, made the comments during a conference in Bern on Thursday which brought together leading Swiss scientists and businessmen to discuss their future after the controversial February 9 vote.

That day Swiss voters adopted the so-called mass immigration initiative, with 50.3% voting in favour. The initiative seeks to curb immigration by introducing foreigner quotas and prioritising Swiss nationals when it comes to filling vacancies. 

Swiss politicians have since been struggling to find a way out of an impasse between the alpine nation and the EU. Since this vote is deemed by the EU to violate a bilateral agreement on unrestricted access to EU workers, Switzerland was frozen out of key Europe-wide educational schemes. 

Switzerland has recently been able to negotiate partial and temporary access to the Horizon 2020 research programme and has kept the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme going only by raising extra money to cover lost EU funds. But these temporary solutions are not seen as adequate and the impasse over the free movement accord remains. 

Wyss said he didn’t think Swiss politicians would be able to find an appropriate way out the current political dead-end and that the EU was in a much better negotiating position. The only solution, he added, would be to revisit the February decision via a new vote by the Swiss people in order to consolidate the bilateral accords. 

Since retiring from business Wyss and his foundation have been in the press for major donations to Harvard University and part funding of the Campus Biotech, the former headquarters of Merck Serono in Geneva which will house the Human Brain Project.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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