Swiss EU referendum

Switzerland vote overwhelmingly to stick with EU’s free movement policy

Photo by Reuters on BBC.com.

— 2 minute read — By Derry Salter

In the most recent Swiss referendum, voters have rejected the Swiss People’s Party’s (SVP) proposal to end the free movement policy with the European Union. The referendum saw the proposal heavily rejected by nearly 62 percent of Swiss voters. President Von Der Leyen actively supported this outcome, stating “I see it as a positive signal to continue to consolidate and deepen our relationship [with the EU]”.

The landlocked country is not a member of the EU through its choice to maintain a more isolationist approach; yet the country sustains a close relationship with Brussels. In 2000, Switzerland negotiated with the EU through bilateral agreements which allowed the free movement of people between EU countries and Switzerland. In return the EU allows Switzerland access to its free trade market. Switzerland have constantly extended their free movement deal with the EU, even joining Europe’s 2005 Schengen open border treaty.

The SVP proposed the end to free movement due to their perception that Switzerland is in dire need of limiting the number of immigrants coming to work in the country – something that the EU free movement policy prevents them from achieving. The SVP are the largest party in Switzerland. Their politics are staunchly right-wing with the preponderance of their ideals focus on combating immigration. Around 25 percent of Switzerland’s population is made up of non-nationals, which the SVP perceive as highly damaging to the country; they blame the EU for burdening Switzerland’s economy whilst simultaneously increasing their population. In the past, the SVP have been rather successful in passing similar initiatives. In 2014, the SVP advocated for the introduction of quotas on immigrants from the EU to Switzerland; this proposal narrowly passed and consequently damaged Swiss-EU relations. However, it is clear that this referendum was different.

Supporters of the anti-free movement initiative argued that such a change would allow Switzerland to control its own borders, yet opponents argued that the rejection of the EU’s free movement deal would destroy the country’s economy. Not only would the abandonment of the deal deprive a multitude of Swiss citizens from working in neighbouring EU countries, it also posed the risk of ending Switzerland’s relationship with the EU. In the past, the EU has told Switzerland that they cannot pick and choose which EU policies to abide by, meaning that if Switzerland chose to reject the free movement deal, the country would quickly be excluded from the EU’s free trade deal.

The rejection of the SVP’s anti-free movement initiative is a clear display that Switzerland aims to maintain a close relationship with the EU, with a majority of voters wanting what is best for the Swiss economy. Despite the SVP’s plan being rejected by nearly two-thirds of the Swiss population, SVP leader, Marco Chiesa, stated that his party “will continue to fight for the country and take back control of immigration.” Although the referendum may be over, it is clear that unrest concerning Switzerland’s approach to immigration will remain.