EU Referendum

Immigration: Swiss migration action ignored


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This news has been floating around a few days now, ignored by the British media, but has popped up on a speciality site, which gives it a topical hook.

The Swiss, it tells us, are back at it again on immigration, having decided to hold a referendum on 9th February next year on whether to impose quotas on the number of immigrants it will accept from European Union countries. Needless to say, the Swiss government is recommending that the people reject the proposal but the right wing, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) is recommending a "yes" vote.

The Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has told a press conference that a "yes" vote would be likely to lead Switzerland to breach bilateral treaties with the EU allowing free movement of workers between Switzerland. It would therefore be likely to jeopardise Swiss-EU relations he said.

The Swiss economic minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said "Swiss businesses would find it difficult to recruit the necessary staff and would be faced with new hurdles when exporting their goods to the EU market", according to a Reuters report.

Swiss industry heavyweights such as drug manufacturer Roche and Novartis as well as banks UBS and Credit Suisse have traditionally looked outside the country for highly skilled and specialized staff. Mmany highly skilled individuals from EU countries.

Many Swiss, though, have had enough, hence the uncompromising posters of the SVP campaign. In 2005, one third of people living in Switzerland were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. In 2008, 21.7 percent of the resident population comprised foreign nationals.

The SVP claims that mass immigration has led to high crime and an increased cost of living for native Swiss citizens. In 2006, 86 percent of foreign residents in Switzerland came from the EU. Nearly a quarter of these were born in Switzerland but retain their parents' nationality.

In the year to August, the number of foreigners from EU countries living in Switzerland rose 4.6 percent to 1.23 million, according to the Swiss Federal Migration Office and, with 1.9 million foreigners overall, that brings the total foreign population to nearly a quarter of the entire eight million population.

Last year, in response to popular unease, the Swiss government imposed quotas on workers from EU member states for a year, after a surge in the number of southern Europeans taking up residence, especially from Portugal and Spain, with up to 80,000 extra arrivals each year.

The Government was invoking a clause in the bilateral agreement on migration with the European Union, of 21 June 1999. This permitted temporary quotas on residency permits for EU residents wishing to work in Switzerland.

In its decision, Switzerland was applying to the EU as a whole limits already in effect to newer EU entrants Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Bulgaria and Romania are covered by a separate migration regime until 2016. 

 Then, in a belated attempt at damage limitation, Social Democratic justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga told a rather unhappy Brussels, "the EU is and will remain our most important partner", adding that, "It's a fact that there is unease among the population, and it's necessary to take this unease seriously".

Now, in Britain, we get a prime minister reacting to the same "unease", but how different that is. And the population, bereft of any direct democracy powers, can only resort to an Uncle Tom petition which at best gets a debate in a toothless parliament.

The Daily Express calls this a "victory" although, strangely, it seems reluctant to publicise the Swiss action where people have real power and can instruct their politicians on actions they must take, even in breach of EU agreements.

But then, one supposes, the last thing an establishment newspaper would want to do is give the plebs ideas above their station. Better to grovel at the door of No 10 for a photo opportunity, than actually get a grip on the problem, they doubtless think.