Switzerland vote could pave way for immigrant restrictions

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On February 9th the people of Switzerland will take to the polls to vote on whether to halt the free movement of people coming into the Alpine nation from the rest of Europe.

Switzerland is a nation which has attracted and benefited from many expats and foreign workers. The native population of the country is relatively small and that often requires companies to look further afield for skilled workers. That is something that right-wingers in the country do not agree with.

The anti-immigrant stance has gained in popularity in recent years as the influx of foreign workers has raised property prices, increased crime rates and congestion. Currently immigration is running close to 700,000 people a year, that’s equivalent to a new town’s population entering the country every 12 months.

Swiss voters will be asked whether the government should have the powers needed to set quotas on the number of immigrants entering the country. The initiative, with the title “Against mass immigration”, would enshrine in the Swiss constitution the power to cap the admission of foreign nationals, including asylum-seekers and EU citizens. It was started by the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and backed by more than 135,000 signatories. In Switzerland, 100,000 signatures are sufficient to force a ballot on any matter.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), wants Switzerland to seize back control by reintroducing immigration quotas, is tapping into concerns immigrants are eroding the country’s Alpine culture and bolstering the ‘yes’ vote. According to polls, foreigners now make up 23% of Switzerland’s entire population of 8 million.

“I don’t want to live like a sardine in a tin can,” said independent politician Thomas Minder, who supports the anti-immigrant initiative. As Europe continues to suffer from record high unemployment anger often turns against immigrants who natives often blame for taking their jobs.

If a yes vote is achieved then existing bilateral agreements with the European Union would be stopped. Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, warned earlier this month that freedom of movement was non- negotiable and that Switzerland would not be able to cherry-pick what it likes from the EU’s single market. She also warned that the 430,000 Swiss nationals living in the EU could see their status be jeopardised.

The vote is likely to have wide reaching implications for the rest of Europe and could see similar votes being proposed in other countries.

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