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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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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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