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IMMIGRATION VOTE

IMMIGRATION

Migrant vote worries Swiss neighbours

People living close to the Swiss border were plunged into uncertainty on Monday after Switzerland voted to restrict immigration from EU countries.

Migrant vote worries Swiss neighbours
A border guard on the Swiss-German border. Photo: Kecko/Flickr/File

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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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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