Capping immigration: The Swiss case

Switzerland, a small nation who introduced the world high class watches, quality chocolate and posh Nespersso, is also the first European country to take a concrete stand on capping immigration.

On Sunday, 9 February, 50.3% of Swiss voters said “Yes” to a referendum asking to introduce a global cap on migrants, including workers, asylum seekers and family members of current residents.

The result of the vote, which was well received by the Swiss conservative right People’s Party, is a blow to the government, who has now three years’ time to change its international agreements, making them compatible with the result of the referendum. This challenge will prove much more difficult taking into consideration EU – Swiss relations.

Commissioner Viviane Reding was fast to comment on the result of the vote by reminding the Swiss that the “Single Market is not a Swiss cheese”.

Mrs Reding was referring to the fact the agreements between the parties are tied together by a so-called “guillotine clause”, meaning that the EU could potentially revoke all of them, including those covering financial services and taxation.

The estimated value of the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland amounted to 350 billion Euro in 2012. In fact, thanks to the large scale of trade between the sides Switzerland, a country of only 41,285 km2, is the EU’s 4th most important trade partner.

While it is too soon to tell how high the immigration quotas would be, the result of the vote will, in practice, affect any EU company doing business in Switzerland and vice versa, especially in the banking sector.

Another interesting element is the implication of the vote for the wider EU. Sunday’s vote was praised by the leaders of a number of far-right or right-wing-populist parties including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or UKIP’s Nigel Farage. 

As both parties are gaining popularity ahead of the EU elections, the Swiss vote could very much set a precedent to other EU members who currently talk about curbing immigration.

Therefore the way that the EU handles the “Swiss case” will determine the survival of the free market, possibly of the block as a whole.
I’m certain David Cameron is watching anxiously…

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg


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