Populists urge more immigration controls

Malcolm Curtis
Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Populists urge more immigration controls
Swiss People's Party poster calling for an end to "massive" immigration.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the initiative narrowly accepted by Swiss voters to limit immigration from the European Union, is set on Friday to push for for more measures to tighten immigration as tensions mount in Switzerland over the issue.


The initiative against massive immigration, backed by 50.3 percent of the electorate, calls for an end to the freedom of movement agreement between Switzerland and the EU and the imposition of quotas.

But the deal is fuzzy on details.

It does not, for example, stipulate how many foreigners would be accepted into the country and through what criteria the level of needed workers would be selected for different sectors of the economy.

The SVP is being prodded to clarify how it expects the quota system to work.

The populist right-wing party hasn’t come through with those details.

But on Tuesday it said it wants to toughen requirements for the regrouping of families and make it easier to boot foreigners out of the country if they don’t integrate into the country.

The SVP said it also wants to tighten up integration requirements to ensure that immigrants can make themselves understood in the language of the region of Switzerland where they are living.

And the party said foreigners should only be accepted if they work in a professional activity or follow a training course and that they should be denied social aid or any other benefits.

More than seven percent of foreigners in Switzerland were out of work last month, according to government statistics released earlier this week.

In January, Bern, under pressure from the SVP, moved to scrap aid for jobhunters from the European Union, as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Such foreigners “who come to Switzerland to look for work will have no right to social assistance,” the Federal Office for Migration said.

However, that policy does not yet apply to EU immigrants living in Switzerland who become unemployed after holding down a job in the country.

The SVP claims that mass immigration is driving down wages for local workers, pushing up rents and land prices and overburdening the health, education and transport systems.
It also charges that some immigrants are “benefits tourists” drawn to Switzerland by its strong economy and generous social benefits.

The SVP will file its proposals for a greater clampdown on foreigners on Friday with a committee of the lower house of parliament.

Meanwhile, Christoph Blocher, party vice-president and one of the architects of the immigration quotas initiative, has sparked a row by suggesting that French-speaking Swiss are unpatriotic.

Voters in Romandie, the French-speaking cantons, all rejected the initiative for immigration quotas, while those in a majority of German-speaking cantons accepted it.

Blocher, a billionaire industrialist from Zurich, this week told the Basler Zeitung, a newspaper that he partly owns, that French-speaking Swiss “still have a weaker national conscience”.

The comment was pilloried in an editorial published by The Tribune de Genéve.

“By what right do you dare to put in doubt the patriotism of Romands (Swiss from French-speaking cantons)?” wrote Pierre Ruetschi, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief.

“Monsieur Blocher, in case it escaped you the last time you visited our end of the country, we are Swiss, certainly a bit different than someone from Nidwalden or Uri, different from a resident of the Zurich Gold Coast, which you are,” Ruestchi said.

“You have no monopoly on identity.”

The editorial accuses Blocher of plunging Switzerland into crisis just for the thrill of winning a political fight.

Tensions between Switzerland’s two main linguistic groups flared earlier this week when Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, a Francophone, was interrupted at a press conference by a German-speaking reporter who asked him to speak more in German.

Burkhalter reprimanded the journalist, telling him, in German, that it was sometimes good to speak French in Bern, the Swiss capital.

He told the press conference that it was important to respect minorities in the country, particularly the Francophones, especially when it is they who opposed the immigration initiative that has put the federal government in a difficult situation.

“It is Suisse Romande (French-speaking Switzerland) that must deal with this situation, as always,” he said, adding that the region is the “most dynamic in the country”.

A higher than average percentage of foreigners live in French-speaking Geneva, headquarters to more than 40 international organizations, than in other parts of Switzerland.


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