Trump and Switzerland: not so far apart?

While many people in Switzerland were shocked and dismayed by the election of Republican Donald Trump as US president last week, some feel it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Switzerland at all.

Trump and Switzerland: not so far apart?
Photo: File/Jim Watson/AFP

As local paper the Aargau Zeitung points out, some of Trump’s intentions as president could have been inspired by the alpine country itself.


In an article published on Monday the paper suggested that Trump’s isolationist tendencies – illustrated by his ‘America First’ slogan – mirror policy in Switzerland over many years.

Though surrounded by EU nations, the country has remained outside the bloc, while the Swiss public has increasingly shown its desire to pull away from EU influence in recent years.

In 2014 the public voted to bring in some form of immigration quotas for EU citizens, a move that has proved disruptive to its relationship with the rest of Europe and is still not resolved.

The anti-immigration initiative was backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which since elections in October 2015 has been the Swiss parliament’s largest party.

It is not inconceivable, therefore, that the public will also back the SVP’s ‘auto-determination’ initiative, which aims to place the Swiss legal system above international law.

If approved, it would allow the country to renounce international treaties if they conflict with Swiss law, a move which some, including Amnesty International, see as an attack on the European Convention on Human Rights and a step too far in Switzerland’s own isolationist leanings.

Anti-immigrant sentiment

If Trump’s infamous policy to erect a wall between the US and Mexico isn’t reflected in Swiss policy, some politicians here have expressed similar views.

In May this year SVP politician Andreas Glarner said Switzerland should “close all of its green borders with barbed wire”, after criticizing the country’s asylum policy.

At the time, residents of the wealthy Aargau village Oberwil-Lieli, where Glarner is mayor, had just voted to pay 290,000 francs a year instead of accepting to house their quota of ten asylum seekers.

What’s more, Trump’s intention to deport undocumented immigrant criminals isn’t so far from the SVP’s own hardline stance on foreign criminals.

Using shock poster tactics that many branded racist, the party led an initiative earlier this year aimed at deporting immigrants who have committed even minor crimes including fighting, money laundering and giving false testimony.

Though voters rejected that initiative, they had previously approved another where those guilty of serious crimes – including rape and murder – are deported. That law was adopted on October 1st this year.

Anti-Muslim sentiment

Trump last year called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In Switzerland, too, anti-Muslim sentiment has been rising in recent years.

In 2009 the Swiss people voted to ban the building of minarets on mosques, and in July this year the canton of Ticino introduced a ban on the burqa after a public vote on the matter.

In September the lower house of parliament narrowly approved a draft bill on a nationwide burqa ban to mirror Ticino’s.

In January Walter Wobmann, the SVP politician influential in both the anti-burqa and anti-minarets campaigns, came close to Trump’s position when he called for a ban on Muslim refugees entering the country as a reaction to terrorist acts in France.

His words were strongly criticized by other politicians.


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.