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Free movement principle faces new Swiss attack

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Free movement principle faces new Swiss attack
Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP
12:06 CET+01:00
The Swiss parliament may have decided that the country’s bilateral agreements with the EU are more important than immigration controls, but the public may yet get to say otherwise.

On Friday, not long after the momentous decision in parliament that approved a hugely watered-down version of the 2014 anti-immigration initiative, the Association for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) said it planned to launch a new initiative calling for the total abandonment of free movement between the EU and Switzerland.

If the public were to vote in favour of such an initiative, it would destroy a whole raft of bilaterals linked to the principle of free movement, essentially excluding Switzerland from the single market.

In a strongly worded statement, AUNS said the Swiss parliament on Friday “renounced the independent and sovereign immigration policy that the people chose” when the public voted in favour of EU immigration controls in a February 2014 referendum.

“December 16th 2016 is a sombre day for the independence and neutrality of Switzerland, and for our direct democracy,” it said.

The organization would “as quickly as possible” to launch a new initiative calling for the country to abandon free movement, it said.

The Swiss government’s “systematic submission” to the EU should stop, it said, adding that despite refusing to join the EU 25 years ago Switzerland has entered “by the back door” due to compliance with EU policies.

“We are a free, independent and sovereign country. We are not in the EU. Here, the people decide their fate!” it added.

As yet there is no timescale in place for the launch of the initiative and any eventual vote on the subject.

In the meantime the Swiss public may get to vote on a further initiative on the subject, RASA.

Launched by supporters of the EU bilaterals, it essentially proposes a rerun of the 2014 anti-immigration initiative in hope of overturning it entirely.

The government is against a rerun, but intends to propose a counter-project in favour of preserving the country's bilaterals.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy anyone can launch a popular initiative to change the constitution or object to a new law. However a certain number of signatures must be gathered before it can be put to the public vote.

All referendums are constitutionally binding, therefore if passed, the government must legislate on the matter.

Parliament’s refusal to implement the 2014 anti-immigration initiative to the letter by implementing quotas was therefore a momentous day for Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, with many people outraged that the government could veer so far from the will of the people.

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