EU-Swiss free movement referendum to decide future course of their relations

On Sunday, Switzerland would hold referendum, wherein its people’s vote would decide if the free movement of immigrants from European Union member states would continue or stop. On 21 June 1999, EU and Switzerland signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP).

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Switzerland’s largest party, Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has been the key initiator of the campaign aimed at controlling the free movement in the Alpine country. The right-wing populist party, which seems to be working on the lines of Brexit, argued that it should be in their country’s hand to set its own limit on the number of foreigners coming in to work. PVP referendum campaign website says, “Migrants change our culture. Public squares, trains and streets become less safe. In addition, practically half of all welfare recipients are foreigners.”

Migrants change our culture. Public squares, trains and streets become less safe. In addition, practically half of all welfare recipients are foreigners.

SVP strongly condemned EU influence on their country, a non-EU member. It warned that “uncontrolled and excessive immigration” would leave Swiss people jobless. The party said that inflow of young foreigners would lead to replacement of older Swiss workers, and would also lead to hike in housing costs, and schools, transport and public services.

Vincent Schaller, an SVP member of the Geneva municipal parliament, told AFP, “We must retrieve the portion of sovereignty involving controlling immigration.” He added that “SVP wants immigration of choice.”

Observers believed that though SVP’s campaign has received dwindling public support as per recent polls, but if by any luck majority vote turns into ‘yes’, it could damage Switzerland’s relations with the Union. Besides, breaking of free movement accord with EU would leave Swiss authorities with one year to negotiate the closing of its 1999 agreement with Brussels.

The Federal Council stated that termination of AFMP accord would lead to application of “the guillotine clause” which implies automatic ending application of six other agreements in the Bilaterals I package. The government said that the initiative would also prohibit Switzerland from entering into any new international obligations that grant freedom of movement to foreign citizens.

SVP opponents fear that the turning down of the free movement accord would put in jeopardy over 120 bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the bloc. Besides, not allowing EU nationals to work in Switzerland, would directly impact Swiss businesses and treaties related free trade, data exchange, agriculture, research, police cooperation, civil aviation, road transport, tourism, education and pensions. Critics believed that it might not be a good time to go for Swiss-exit plan, especially amid the onslaught of coronavirus pandemic, as the country might need EU support to boost its economy.

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