Are Switzerland the EU facing a new face-off? Photo: Peter Klaunzer/AFP
The initiative ‘For limited immigration’ has been deemed admissible by the Federal Chancellery, reported the Swiss press, allowing campaigners to start gathering signatures in favour of the proposal. They have until July 16th 2019 to get the required 100,000 signatures to push it to a referendum.
The initiative proposes that Switzerland manage its immigration policy unilaterally. If accepted at referendum, the Swiss government would have one year to put an end to the country's free movement agreement with the EU, which currently allows EU citizens to work and live freely in Switzerland, and vice versa.
The government can attempt to end the accord by mutual consent and negotiate with the EU to preserve a raft of other related bilaterals, but if those negotiations fail Switzerland must act unilaterally to end free movement, even if it means renouncing a whole package of agreements, say the initiative's backers.
Devised by the SVP and the group Action for an independent Switzerland (AUNS), the initiative is a backlash against the Swiss government’s 2016 decision not to fully implement a previous SVP-backed initiative, approved by the public in 2014, that called for quotas on EU immigration.
The 2014 vote threw relations between Switzerland and the EU into disarray, since implementing the original text would have contravened the free movement agreement and jeopardized a whole raft of bilateral accords between the two parties.
After nearly three years of discussions, in the end the Swiss government implemented a hugely watered down version in order to save the country’s relationship with the EU, a move that was seen by many as undemocratic and a capitulation to pressure by Brussels.
Writing on the SVP's website, MP Roger Köppel criticized the Swiss government for its “pseudo-solution” and said “we cannot simply ignore a popular decision”.
This second initiative aimed to “end once and for all the principle of free movement of people,” it said.