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Migrant vote worries Swiss neighbours

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Migrant vote worries Swiss neighbours
A border guard on the Swiss-German border. Photo: Kecko/Flickr/File
15:21 CET+01:00
People living close to the Swiss border were plunged into uncertainty on Monday after Switzerland voted to restrict immigration from EU countries.

Thousands of workers cross the border daily from Germany, France and Italy to work in Switzerland — a practice Sunday’s vote could imperil.

Jean-François Besson, the secretary general of "Groupement Transfrontalier Europeen", which represents tens of thousands of French nationals working Switzerland, told The Local on Monday that the vote was a "rejection" of French workers and it will inevitably spark concern and uncertainty.

“Of course we are worried. It’s not good news. Firstly psychologically it sends a negative message to foreigners in Switzerland. It says ‘the people of Switzerland have voted against you’. It’s a rejection of foreigners," Besson said.

“Secondly they are anxious about their economic situation. Although there are no immediate consequences, the French people who work in Switzerland will be worried about their future status. They will now enter a period of insecurity.

Find out how the French are reacting on The Local France.

People living in the border areas of Italy were also looking for reassurance from Switzerland on Monday. Italy’s economic woes have made Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton of Ticino an increasingly popular destination for workers and business owners from northern Italy in recent years:

“There has been a strong increase in the number of daily commuters, and seasonal workers, from Italy in Ticino,” Ferruccio Pastore, director of the International and European Forum for Migration Research in Turin told The Local.

“And many Italian companies have moved across the border, bringing their own workers with them.”

The irony is that “many Italians have voted against Italians”, Pastore added, pointing out that Ticino was one of the areas most strongly in favour of restrictions.

Find out more about the Italian reaction on The Local Italy.

In Germany, one of the biggest sources of foreign workers in Switzerland, the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper said the referendum showed the Swiss weren’t afraid of cheap labour - but the more expensive kind:

“The Swiss are not angry about 'social tourists' but more about the influx of highly qualified, skilled workers that causes rents to rise, and the cheap labourers who give Swiss minimum-wage workers a tougher time finding jobs.”

Germans who cross the border could find themselves seeing the experience through the eyes of Bulgarians and Romanians entering EU countries, it concluded.

Find out what the Germans think on The Local Germany.

The referendum will not take effect immediately — the Swiss government has three years to incorporate it into law.

Copycat laws?

The result also brought calls for copycat laws from Eurosceptics in Germany and France.

Germany's anti-EU party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) Monday picked up the baton and called for a similar law in Germany.

"Independent of the content of the Swiss referendum, we should also create an immigration law in Germany which is based on the qualifications and integration abilities of the immigrants, and effectively prevents immigration into our social support systems," Bernd Lucke, AfD spokesman said on Monday.

In Italy, Roberto Santalucia, mayor of border town Bellano, said he feared the spread of restrictions. He said the vote will “reinforce right-wing policies” and is only intended to “exclude others”, something that could have a worrying impact on the rest of Europe.

French political analyst Jean-Yves Camus from IRIS (Institute of International Relations and Strategies) told The Local on Monday that France’s National Front will use the Swiss referendum to its own advantage as it campaigns for the upcoming local elections.

“The National Front will try to show French voters that there is already one country where people voted against Europe and against immigration," Camus said. "They will argue that if the Swiss people who are well educated and in a financially strong position can vote against Europe and immigration then so can you’”.

Find out more about the Italian reaction on The Local Italy.

Find out how the French are reacting on The Local France.

Find out what the Germans think on The Local Germany.

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