Campaigners seeking to end Switzerland’s free movement of people agreement with the European Union have handed in signatures in Bern to try to force a national vote on the issue.
The initiative, launched by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party and Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland group, says Switzerland should be able to regulate foreign immigration autonomously. It seeks to ban any new treaty or obligation under international law that would grant free movement to foreign nationals. Existing treaties cannot be amended benefiting foreigners, it states.
The groups have collected around 118,700 signatures which still need to be validated by the Federal Chancellery. At least 100,000 signatures are needed within 18 months of the initiative being launched for it to be accepted. No date has yet been set for a vote.
If the initiative were accepted by citizens in a national vote, the text states that the Swiss authorities would have just one year to negotiate the end of the existing free movement agreement with Brussels. If no solution is found, the government should end the agreement within a month, which could risk the collapse of other bilateral agreements with the 28-nation bloc.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but is a close partner and ties are governed by over 120 bilateral accords, including the free movement of people agreement.
People's Party President Albert Rösti said the Swiss economy was doing well despite a financial crisis in Europe and a weak euro. But he said gross domestic product per capita had hardly increased in Switzerland, unemployment was getting higher and wages were falling or stagnating, especially in border regions. He blames the free movement of people accord for this situation.
The initiative is the People’s Party latest attempt to stem immigration to Switzerland from the EU following a successful February 2014 vote to re-introduce quotas on EU immigrants. Party representatives were unhappy with how the 2014 initiative was eventually put in action, arguing that measures giving priority to Swiss job seekers did not go far enough in introducing quotas.
Meanwhile, a government report published in July concluded that immigration from the EU and EFTA (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein) member states to Switzerland adapts to the needs of the Swiss labour market and does not have a negative impact on the local population.
It also revealed that immigration declined last year. In 2017, some 31,250 people moved to Switzerland from EU and EFTA countries; an 11% decrease compared to the previous year and a 50% reduction compared to record year 2013. Net migration is also down once again for the first half of 2018, compared to the previous year.