An infamous campaign poster from the 2007 Swiss election that depicts a flock of white sheep inside Switzerland, with one kicking a black sheep outside — the implication being that the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP, Schweizerische Volkspartei in German; UDC, Union démocratique du centre in French) would tighten immigration policies to keep out migrants and perhaps reverse the trend of greater immigration to Switzerland in recent years. Critics pointed out the nastier racist undertones of the poster.
It’s that advertisement that I had in mind today as Swiss voters elected by a narrow 50.3%-to-49.7% margin to adopt an initiative ‘against mass immigration’ that would introduce quotas to Swiss immigration, despite the wishes of the Swiss government and Swiss business interests and the warnings of top EU officials. The result threatens the existing treaties between Switzerland and the European Union that guarantee the free movement of persons, one of the four ‘core’ EU freedoms.
It’s a significant victory for the SVP, which has emerged as a major force in Swiss politics through its forceful advocacy of a nationalist, conservative agenda to restrict immigration and oppose greater EU integration.
The result means that the Swiss government now has three years either to renegotiate or revoke the bilateral agreement finalized in 2002 with the European Union over free movement of persons. That treaty is part of a larger package that provided Switzerland access to the EU single market in exchange for enacting certain aspects of EU policy, and it’s part of a wider process that has more closely integrated Switzerland with the European Union over the past decade. The country’s historic independence means that it’s never seriously pursued EU membership — Switzerland joined the United Nations only in 2002, after all. Continue reading Swiss immigration vote threatens access to EU single market