Campaigners demand referendum on Swiss government’s immigration decision

The Swiss people may get to have another say on immigration thanks to a group of citizens who are pushing for a referendum on the government’s decision to water down the 2014 anti-immigration initiative.

Campaigners demand referendum on Swiss government's immigration decision
On Tuesday four citizens’ committees clubbed together to launch their campaign, which must gather 50,000 signatures by April 7th in order to go to a referendum, at the earliest in September.
The move is the latest episode in a saga that dates back to February 2014, when the public narrowly voted to introduce quotas on EU immigration in an ‘anti-mass immigration’ initiative backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). 
After nearly three years of hand-wringing following the legally binding referendum, last December the Swiss parliament decided to implement a hugely watered-down version of the initiative that would not introduce quotas but would give Swiss workers some preference in the job market. 
This ‘light’ solution sought to preserve the country’s relationship with the EU, which would have been threatened by immigration controls since they contravene the principle of free movement of people between Switzerland and the bloc. 
But the government’s decision did not go down well with many, who felt it was undemocratic in not respecting the will of the people who voted for quotas. 
This latest initiative seeks to rectify that by giving the people a say on the government’s ‘light’ solution.
Speaking to the media in Bern on Tuesday Nenad Stojanovic, who launched the campaign, said the four committees involved were united in feeling that the law adopted by parliament was not compatible with the 2014 initiative, reported news agencies.
It is “extremely problematic, in a system of direct democracy, that in the end citizens cannot have their say on the ‘light’ solution,” he said.
A referendum on the subject would also allow the people to clarify their position on Swiss-EU relations, he added.
All four groups were concerned by the fact that no political party had launched their own referendum campaign to challenge parliament’s December decision, not even the SVP, which was staunchly against the ‘light’ solution.
Student Sandra Bieri, who created one of the four groups, ‘No to the violation of the constitution’, told the media that the situation put the whole system of direct democracy in danger and called for “all the true democrats of the country” to back their initiative in order to signal to the government that it cannot ignore the will of the people.
However the four committees are not all on the same page when it comes to how they would vote, should a referendum go ahead. 
While Stojanovic said he would vote in favour of the government’s ‘light’ solution, other more conservative groups would vote against. 
A ‘no’ vote would send the government back to the drawing board, as it would once again have to try to find a way to implement immigration quotas without contravening free movement – or be forced to abandon free movement altogether, putting the future of its relations with the EU in jeopardy. 
In the meantime, another popular initiative could also be put to the public vote. 
RASA – an acronym of ‘Raus aus der Sackgasse', meaning ‘break the deadlock' – is calling for a revote on the 2014 initiative.
The Swiss government has rejected RASA, saying it would be undemocratic to vote again on the same subject so soon, but is developing a counter-project which could see the public asked to vote on whether any immigration controls should take into account Swiss-EU bilateral agreements.
Meanwhile another group, Association for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS), is planning to launch a further referendum campaign calling for the total abandonment of free movement between the EU and Switzerland.
Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy Swiss citizens can object to a piece of new legislation by calling for a referendum on the subject. 
50,000 signatures must be gathered within 100 days for it to go to a public vote.

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EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

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