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IMMIGRATION VOTE

IMMIGRATION

Eurosceptics hail Swiss vote on EU immigration

Right-wing parties in Europe hailed Swiss voters for approving curbs Sunday on EU immigration while mainstream European media worried about potential ripple effects across the continent.

Eurosceptics hail Swiss vote on EU immigration
Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP

The European Commission said it would assess close European Union ties with non-member Switzerland following the narrow vote, raising the prospect of restricted trade or other retaliatory measures.
   
Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party, Britain's main eurosceptic party, said Switzerland had stood up to "bullying" from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.
   
"This is wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe," said Farage, who is a member of the European parliament (MEP).

France's extreme right National Front party praised "the Swiss people's lucidity" in a statement, calling for France to likewise stop "mass immigration".
   
Austria's far-right FPO party said that country would vote the same way given the chance, while Italy's populist Northern League demanded a similar referendum there.
 
EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet on Monday in Brussels but it was not clear whether the Swiss vote would be added to the agenda.
   
Wolfgang Schaeuble, finance minister of Germany, Switzerland's top trade partner, said the result "is going to create plenty of problems for Switzerland in a host of areas".

But he said it was also a warning sign of European globalization fears.

Swedish warning

The Swedish government said it was very unhappy with that Switzerland narrowly agreed to limit immigration from EU countries, according to a report from the TT news agency.

“I am deeply disappointed by the sad outcome of the referendum in Switzerland," said Sweden's EU Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.

"Limiting immigration is going to frame the strong Swiss economy is so dependent on the outside world," she said.

“Europe needs more freedom of movement to get by us in the global competition,”  Ohlsson said.

“Now that the country will close the borders for EU citizens , there is reason to look at how relations between the EU and Switzerland will be in the future,” she warned.

Swiss President and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter said he planned to tour European capitals to explain the vote and seek a solution, starting with Berlin.
   
"The people are sovereign, and a healthy system doesn't force the public to follow political authorities with outsized powers," Burkhalter said.

The German newspaper Tagesspiegel said: "With the (Swiss) referendum, it becomes more likely that the anti-Europeans will represent the biggest group in the European parliament, with a quarter of the MEPs."

In France, the business daily Les Echos, described the result as one with "economic consequences that are difficult to predict".
   
The vote obliges the Bern government to renegotiate within three years a 2007 deal struck with Brussels that gave most EU citizens free access to the Swiss labour market.
   
It was one of a series of accords reached in 1999 after five years of talks that were seen as a way for Switzerland and the EU to enjoy access to each other's markets without Switzerland having to opt for full EU membership.
   
Brussels, though, has warned that Switzerland cannot cherry-pick from the binding package of deals, which were themselves approved in a 2000 referendum.
   
Besides free movement of labour, the pacts include equal access for Swiss and EU firms to public procurement tenders, smooth trade in farm goods, air transport and other sectors.

'Consequences for all of Europe'
   
The Belgian newspaper Le Soir noted that "it's the whole scaffolding of Switzerland's bilateral accords with the European Union which is assured of collapse".
   
Centre-left El Pais, Spain's top selling newspaper, worried about ripple effects of the vote in an editorial called "Perverse Consequences" published in Monday's edition.
   
"While by a narrow majority (50.3% of votes cast), the victory of those who oppose 'mass immigration' in Switzerland will have consequences for all of Europe," it said.
   
"Not only does it call into question the agreement on the free movement of people established with the European Union, it also reflects the populist and xenophobic agitation sweeping the Old Continent less than three months before the European elections," it said.
   
"This is the worst possible outcome for the majority of politicians and Swiss business organizations," it added.
   
Spanish conservative daily ABC wrote on its website that the outcome of the referendum "caused a real political earthquake in this central European nation and it puts its ties with the European Union in danger".

While concerns have been raised about the impact on the Swiss economy of the vote, the Swiss franc remained strong in currency exchange trading early Monday morning.

The franc was valued at 0.81740 euros, down slightly from 0.82 euros a week earlier.

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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