Survey: tighten borders but keep EU accords, say Swiss

Survey: tighten borders but keep EU accords, say Swiss
File photo: Justus Blumer
The majority of Swiss people want the country to reinstate border controls and restrictions but without sacrificing Switzerland’s relationship with the EU, according to a new survey.

The Sophia 2016 report, led by research institute M.I.S Trend, questioned 1,290 members of the public and 380 opinion leaders across Switzerland about their views on immigration, security and the EU principle of free movement of people, to which Switzerland adheres through a bilateral agreement.

The survey results, published in magazine L'Hebdo this week, revealed 69 percent want the country to resurrect systematic border controls, fuelled by fears over terrorist attacks and the current migrant crisis.

When it comes to free movement within Europe, some 53 percent want to introduce restrictions on Switzerland’s accord with the EU’s founding principle, while 14 percent want the principle to be abolished altogether.

The figures are “a real political bomb”, wrote L'Hebdo, as the Swiss government grapples to find a way to implement immigration limits – as voted for by the public in a 2014 referendum – without jeopardizing its bilateral agreements with the EU.

The acceptance of the anti-immigration initiative on February 9th 2014 came as a shock to the government, which has until February 2017 to decide how to implement it.  

The situation has led to a rocky period in Switzerland’s relationship with the EU, which initially blocked the alpine country's participation in EU student exchange and scientific research programmes.

That issue is a worrying one for the Swiss public, with 69 percent of those surveyed saying it would be a serious concern if the implementation of immigration quotas resulted in Switzerland’s permanent exclusion from such programmes.

As a result, if they were forced to choose, just over half (54 percent) of Swiss people would opt to maintain bilateral agreements with the EU – and therefore free movement – even if that meant disregarding the 2014 referendum result, found the survey.

In what L'Hebdo dubbed a “polentagraben”, only those in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino – which has long had high numbers of cross-border workers from Italy – favoured the application of the anti-immigration initiative over the maintenance of bilaterals.

Commenting on the rather contradictory results, L'Hebdo said the Swiss people “do not wish to end good relations with their neighbours.”

“They accept the rules of the European single market – the famous free movement of goods, people, capital and services. But they seem to consider free movement of people as a phenomenon rather than a freedom to apply without constraints”.

Negotiations between the EU and Switzerland over how to implement immigration quotas are currently on hold until the outcome of Brexit is known following the British referendum on June 23rd.

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