Will Switzerland vote to end EU migration?

On Saturday, Switzerland decide whether or not to restrict migration from EU countries. We asked three Swiss experts whether the vote will be successful.

Will Switzerland vote to end EU migration?

On September 27th, Swiss voters will go to the polls to vote on five separate questions. 

READ: What's at stake in Switzerland's five referendums on Sunday? 

The most controversial question is the right-wing Swiss People's Party initiative (SVP) which hopes to implement a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative' will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland, although the exact specifics of the limitation remain unclear and will come as a result of negotiations with the EU should the referendum pass. 

READ: What will happen if Switzerland votes to limit EU immigration? 

What do the polls say? 

Despite early indications that the vote was likely to pass – especially during the heights of the pandemic – current polling suggests that it will be defeated

READ: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

The support for the plan has failed to go beyond the SVP's base in the Swiss populace. 

Around two thirds (65 percent) reject the proposal, while 33 percent are in favour. Support for the vote is strongest in Ticino, where 45 percent of voters are in favour.

What do the experts say? 

The Local Switzerland interviewed three experts to discuss the vote. 

On the likelihood of it passing, each was in agreement that it was unlikely – but not impossible – that the vote would pass. 

Michael Siegenthaler, a Labour market specialist at KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich, said few parallels could be drawn with the SVP’s previous effort to restrict migration in 2014. 

“I think the last polls on the vote were relatively clear, and in that sense relatively comforting for most people that it won’t pass,” Siegenthaler told The Local. 

“It’s a bit different to the vote in 2014. The polls were for the acceptance of the referendum before. 

“Here, the polls seem to suggest it’s pretty clear. I’m pretty sure that there was kind of a relief (for many in government) when the first polls came out.”

Unlike the SVP, the remaining Swiss mainstream political parties – along with the government itself – is opposed to the referendum. 

‘Not even the SVP think it will pass’

Sean Müller, an Assistant Professor at the University of Lausanne who specialises in Swiss and comparative federalism, territorial politics and direct democracy, said that the vote was unlikely to pass. 

“I don’t think it will pass for several reasons. I think they will have something like 40-45% approving (the vote),” Müller told The Local. 

“One reason is that the SVP has 25% to 28% of the vote normally, getting to 45% is still a success in reaching beyond their core electorate – but they won’t have a majority.”

Martina Mousson, from political research agency GFS Bern, agrees. 

“The polls show there is not a lot of support for the initiative outside the SVP’s (core demographic). People who have strong feelings for the party, they have strong feelings for the initiative,” Mousson told The Local. 

“But we are pretty sure it is going to be a no. We dont see any pressure on the initiative at the moment, unlike in 2014.”

Müller that even the SVP were likely to be sceptical of its chances. 

“I don’t think the SVP really believe the referendum will pass. The real success they had was in 2014 when they launched an initiative against mass immigration and it passed. Everyone predicted a ‘no’ and yet it passed – so it was a surprise for observers, but it was also a surprise for the SVP.”

Why will the vote fail?

Müller told The Local that the specificity of the vote was likely to be its downfall. 

“One of the reasons it passed in 2014 was because it was very vague. It said we should introduce quotas on migration, but it didn’t say how high the quota could be. So (voters) could signal that they were unhappy with the government while not doing anything concrete.”

“But by being so specific now, they have cut out the protest vote. The SVP will lose a lot of votes because they are so precise.”

Another vote looms likely even if the referendum is defeated

Michael Siegenthaler, a Labour market specialist at KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich told The Local that even if the vote failed, it was unlikely to be the end of the issue from the point of view of the SVP. 

“It’s not unlikely that something similar would happen again,” he said. 

READ: What’s at stake on September 27th?

“I mean it's speculation but probably yes. If you really look at it, it states in our constitution that we (are to) regulate immigration by ourselves. 

“The referendum that was accepted in 2014 said that we have to regulate immigration independently of the EU. Everyone is aware of that, obviously, that we didn’t fully implement the 2014 initiative.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”