ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss voters decided on Sunday whether to cancel an agreement with the European Union on the free movement of people, a key test of attitudes towards foreigners who make up a quarter of the population.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – the largest in parliament – has led demands to take back control of immigration, echoing some of the arguments pro-Brexit politicians used ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU.
But the GFs.bern poll found 63% of respondents opposed the SVP proposal and 35% supported it, suggesting voters want stability at a time of economic uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.
The SVP paints a grim picture of young foreigners replacing older Switzerland, housing becoming more expensive, schools and transportation overcrowded and construction going wild.
Opponents say the plan will rob businesses of skilled workers and a torpedo agreement that increases Swiss non-EU members’ access to the single EU market.
A “guillotine clause” meaning ending free movement would topple other bilateral treaties on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.
EU citizens plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, who together with Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), constitute 68% of the 2.1 million foreign residents in 2019. More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.
If the referendum attempt, as expected, fails, the government could turn to its biggest foreign policy issue: a stalled agreement that would strengthen ties with the EU but which critics say violates Swiss sovereignty too much.
Reporting by Michael Shields, Edited by Timothy Heritage
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