More than half of respondents to an online poll conducted by a Zurich-based media company, Tamedia, said they are against a referendum drive by the far right to stop the free movement of citizens from the European Union.
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has launched a campaign to end the “uncontrolled and disproportionate immigration” from the EU, a proposal that will be voted on in a nationwide referendum on May 17th.
But Tamedia’s survey of about 11,000 people across Switzerland found that 58 percent of respondents were against SVP’s idea, 35 percent approved it, and 7 percent had no opinion.
Claiming that foreigners take jobs away from the Swiss, the SVP wants to nullify the free-movement accord, which guarantees the right of EU and EFTA (Norway and Iceland) nationals to work and live in Switzerland freely.
But the government argues that workers from the EU/EFTA member states are needed by the Swiss labour market and do not threaten Swiss jobs.
The free-movement accord is one of over 100 bilateral agreements that the Swiss signed with Brussels; this and other treaties allow Switzerland to access EU’s single market — a crucial outlet for the export-reliant Swiss economy.
More than 30,000 EU/EFTA nationals moved to Switzerland in 2018 — half the record number of 60,957 who came in previous years.
And over 325,000 cross-border workers from Germany, Italy, and France commute to Switzerland each day.
One of Switzerland’s major parties with over 30 percent of seats in the parliament, the SVP has long campaigned to curb the influx of immigrants; it also opposes closer ties between Switzerland and the EU.
Tensions between the Bern and the Brussels date back to 2014 when Swiss voters backed another SVP-powered referendum – the ‘against mass immigration' initiative –which aimed to impose limits on immigration from EU countries and therefore protect the rights, and high incomes, of Swiss workers.
Aware that implementing the measures restricting EU freedom of movement contained in the referendum text could seriously threaten Swiss access to the European Common Market, the Swiss parliament finally approved a watered-down version of the initiative.
This involved imposing new rules on unemployment which should limit the impact of foreign workers on the domestic job market.
But the parliament’s decision to pass a “lite” version of the mass immigration initiative angered the SVP while it failed to fully satisfy Brussels over the issue of access of EU workers to the Swiss job market.