• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Shock vote surprises Swiss establishment

Malcolm Curtis · 9 Feb 2014, 22:22

Published: 09 Feb 2014 22:22 GMT+01:00

Although polling figures suggested that support for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) initiative against “mass immigration” was strong, observers were caught off guard by a referendum result they never quite imagined would materialize.

In the end, just 19,516 votes separated the yes and no forces, with 50.3 percent backing the plan.

The yes vote was “surprising,” Blick newspaper said online, noting that the “SVP stood alone against the other major parties, the business community and the unions”.

The newspaper, which referred to the result as a “slap in the face” for Bern, said comments made last Sunday by former foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, calling for Switzerland to join the EU, may have tipped the balance.

“Spiteful Twitterers joked that she should be given an honorary membership in the SVP.”

Le Temps newspaper called the referendum result a “heavy defeat for the government, the majority of parliament and the business community” and a “new black Sunday” for Switzerland.

The people, with a tiny majority, “called into question one of the most important pillars of our prosperity, the free circulation of labour with the European Union,” the Geneva-based daily said.

It recalled that the country was divided, just as in 1992, when Swiss voters rejected joining the European Economic Area.

A majority in each of the French-speaking cantons opposed the quotas, while most German-speaking cantons backed the initiative, along with Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton, where 68 percent voted yes.

The consequences of the vote “will occupy us for years", said Res Strehle, editor-in-chief of Tages Anzeiger, the Zurich-based newspaper.

While a vote by the Swiss to ban minarets a few years ago was an act of “religious intolerance”, it had relatively little political impact, Strehle said.

By comparison the no vote for European freedom of movement with its “wafer-thin majority” is “a partial rejection of globalization and European integration”.

Swiss politicians need to seek a way to limit the damage and find “a new bilateral way, if there is one”.

“More serious than the unclear future relationship with the EU is the sign of xenophobia which Switzerland (with this vote) has sent out to the world,” Strehle said.

Representatives of the major political parties who opposed the SVP initiative, agreed on Sunday that the main goal now is to preserve a bilateral agreement with the EU.

Critics of the initiative have noted that it leaves many unanswered questions with regard to how exactly the proposed quotas would be put in place.

It fails, for example, to specify how many foreigners would be admitted, under what criteria and what government service would be responsible for applying the limits.

But Swiss business groups are clearly worried about the potential impact of the voters’ decision.

Story continues below…

Hôtelleriesuisse, the Swiss Hotel Association, for example, said the rejection of free movement of workers constituted a “massive obstacle” for the country’s hotel industry, given that 40 percent of its employees are foreign.

It said the continuation of the labour deal with the EU was “essential” for the sector.

Also raised as a concern is the impact that immigrant quotas would have on Swiss citizens living in the European Union, who face being stripped of their rights to work in the 28-country bloc.

Bernard Rappaz, editor-in-chief at RTS, the French-language state broadcaster, said the vote had plunged Switzerland “into the unknown”.

The country, he said, was “torn between two different visions” on immigration, with on the one side, concerns raised about the adverse impact it had on housing and jobs, versus its positive role in propelling Swiss prosperity.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French Open tennis
Wawrinka eases into third round in Paris

Swiss defending French Open champion Stan Wawrinka beat Japan's Taro Daniel.

Swiss solar plane continues historic trip
File photo: Eugene Tanner/AFP

Solar Impulse 2, piloted by a Swiss, successfully flew out of Ohio on Wednesday en route to Pennsylvania.

Basel: Muslim schoolboys must shake hands or face fine
File photo: Broad Bean Media

Decision by Basel education authorities comes after two Muslim boys refused to shake their female teacher's hand on religious grounds.

Paternity leave backers push for public vote
File photo: AFP

Fathers in Switzerland should get four weeks statutory paternity leave, say supporters of a new popular initiative.

French strikes hit Swiss services once again
File photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Expect more disruptions on train journeys to France every week into June.

10 unspoken rules for fitting in with the Swiss
Photo: Stephan Schacher/Swiss Tourism

New to Switzerland? The Local shows you how to navigate your way through the Swiss social minefield.

Swisscom fined millions for dominating sports TV
Photo: Swisscom

Switzerland's main telecomms group has been fined 71.8 million Swiss francs by the Swiss competition authorities.

Swiss injured by neo- Nazi gunman in Austria
The shooting happened in the Vorarlberg region of Austria. Photo: Roland Vlach/AFP

A 49-year-old Swiss woman was among those injured by a neo-Nazi gunman at a rock concert in Austria.

Huge blaze burns down Swiss candle factory
Photo: Schwyz cantonal police

A candle factory in Einsiedeln became a victim of its own creations on Monday afternoon when a major fire broke out.

Farms in Swiss Jura to pilot refugee integration project
Volunteers will undertake manual labour on farms in the Jura. Photo: Mark Goebel

The pilot programme will offer refugees unpaid farming work to help them integrate.

Photo: Emmanual Dunand/AFP
Sport
Brother of Belgian bomber wins gold in Switzerland
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Photo: Gstaad Tourism
National
Snow puts end to hottest weekend of year so far
File photo: Abhishek Jacob
Lifestyle
Swiss court vetoes wedding of couple with 50-year age gap
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Culture
Dog day afternoon: Swiss saint meets Pope in Rome
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Business & Money
Pink diamond sold for record-breaking $31m in Geneva
File photo: Candida Performa
Lifestyle
Revealed: living in Switzerland could prolong your life
Photo: Cervo
Travel
In pictures: Switzerland’s most welcoming hotels
Photo: Aargau cantonal government
‘Beast of Rupperswil’ was local football coach
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Features
Geneva exhibition marks 200 years of Frankenstein
Photo AFP
National
Swiss basic income campaign sets Guinness world record
Photo: St Gallen police
Society
Police hunt killer of man shot dead in St Gallen street
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Society
Presumed jihadist could have Swiss nationality quashed
Photo: Zurich Zoo
Culture
Gallery: giant tortoise at Zurich Zoo is mother at 80
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Society
Swiss farmer loses appeal in row over noisy cow bells
Photo: Esparta Palmer
Health
44-year-old woman refused fertility treatment on insurance
File photo: Thomas Coex/AFP
Society
Jilted admirer shocks woman with tattoo... of her face
File photo: Flickr
Health
Swiss school eyes longer holidays for non-smoking staff
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
National
Swiss basic income vote: what you need to know
 Photo: Heinrich Plum
National
Lidl uses German mountain to promote its Swiss products
Photo: Illiz Architektur
This old Swiss army bunker is now an incredible new pool
Photo: Stephan Engler
National
Survey reveals some Swiss ‘never’ cross linguistic divide
Society
Swiss parliament snubs plan for two weeks paternity leave
File photo: Giovanni Blank
Lifestyle
Fathers should share parental leave, says commission
4,657
jobs available