Switzerland votes to limit the number of EU migrants

Narrow approval for referendum will tear up agreements with the EU on free movement of people and good

Paris

Relations between Switzerland and the European Union were plunged into confusion last night when the Swiss voted to impose a ceiling on the number of foreign migrants – including citizens of the EU.

Against all expectations, the Swiss narrowly approved a referendum proposal to stop “mass migration”, which will tear up agreements with the EU on free movement of people and goods.

The official result recorded that 50.3 per cent of voters had backed the measure.

The proposal, tabled by the right-wing populist UDC (Democratic Union of Centre) party had been fiercely condemned by Swiss business groups and opposed by the federal parliament, President and government.

The result obliges Switzerland to impose unspecified annual ceilings on all foreign migrants, including Britons and other EU citizens and daily cross-border commuters from France, Italy and Germany.

Such limits would breach “open borders” treaties with Brussels, which also allow Swiss goods to circulate freely within Europe and give Swiss businesses the right to bid for EU government contracts.

The Swiss political scientist Pascal Sciarini said the country faced economic “chaos” because all its diplomatic and commercial agreements with the EU would have to be renegotiated from scratch. Over half of Swiss exports go to the EU.

The UDC argued that migration, currently running at 80,000 people a year, threatened to swamp the culture and identity of Switzerland. The country has a population of 8,000,000, of whom one in four were born abroad.

Unless ceilings abolished by a previous referendum in 2000 were re-established, the UDC said, Swiss housing, health, education and transport services would collapse under the pressure from the foreign “invasion”. The “yes” campaign’s posters showed black legs striding purposefully over a Swiss flag – recalling the party’s much criticised poster in a 2009 referendum showing white sheep ejecting a black sheep from Switzerland.

Although the party was again accused of using the race card, the most dramatic effect of the referendum result will be to scramble relations between Switzerland and its neighbours and ethnic cousins in Germany, France and Italy.

Yves Nidegger of the UDC said that a majority of Swiss people had rejected the “alarmist” tactics of business and mainstream parties who had warned that the “ten plagues of Egypt ” would strike the country if it voted “yes”.

Far from taking their revenge by ejecting Switzerland from its EU trade agreements, he said, many European countries would soon follow the “respectable and exemplary” Swiss lead and impose their own curbs on free movement of people within Europe.

Martine Brunschwing-Graf, president of the federal commission against racism, used another biblical image to make the opposite argument. She said that Switzerland had suffered “ten lean years” after it refused to join the EU single market in 1992. Its economy had boomed since it reversed the decision in 2002.

“Now we are throwing away our good fortune,” she said.

Under the Swiss constitution, a referendum needs both a majority of cantons and a simple majority of the popular vote to pass. The proposition “against mass racism” easily won a majority of cantons.  The polling institute GfS estimated that the “yes” had won 50.4 per cent of the popular vote – compared to only 43 per cent in favour in the final opinion polls.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory