Continuing with the immigration news coming out of Europe this week, Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to cut net immigration to no more than 0.2% of the population a year. This would have required the government to cut current levels of immigration from 80,000 people per year to about 16,000 people per year.
This referendum was under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy whereby citizens can force a referendum if they can muster enough signatures of support (50,000 in 100 days). In February, a similar exercise in direct democracy resulted in the country voting to re-introduce immigration quotas, which effectively opts out of an EU free movement agreement. The Swiss government has still to implement that referendum which has apparently thrown “relations with the EU into turmoil”.
Coming less than a year after that restriction on immigration, supporters of the latest measure argued that restricting immigrant numbers would reduce pressure on the country’s resources. The environment would be protected by reducing the need for new infrastructure: housing and roads. But the measure didn’t stop at limiting Switzerland’s growth; the proposal would also have included a measure to limit overpopulation abroad by devoting 10% of Switzerland’s overseas aid to family planning in developing countries. Thus, not only were immigrants to be limited, but Switzerland was to use its money to target immigrants at the source: foreigners breeding in overseas countries.
These proposals were not supported by any of the major political parties who argued that restrictions on immigration would be bad for the economy. As the BBC notes:
“The [proposal’s opponent’s] also feared that if passed, the measure could put the country in breach of its international commitments and damage its image.
Many environmental groups argued that if the Swiss really wanted to protect their environment, they should adjust their own lifestyles”
These opposing views were ultimately successful: Switzerland’s 26 cantons rejected the proposal, with about 74% of people voting no. This is despite many Swiss being worried about environmental degradation and overpopulation: the Swiss population has grown by over a million people in 20 years. Part of the reason for the result may be the importance that immigration has had historically in the makeup of the Swiss population. Nearly a quarter of its current 8.2 million inhabitants are foreign nationals, mostly from EU states (the largest groups coming from Italy, Germany and former Yugoslavia). Are recent immigrants likely to vote against further immigration? Or to see it as a favourable thing for their adopted country? Either way, Swiss voters have said this year that they want immigration quotas but do not want to restrict immigration in such a drastic way as was proposed here. At least Swiss voters have the ability to vote on immigration matters: something their British counterparts must envy…