Despite fears that uncertainty surrounding the pandemic – along with a rise in Swiss nationalist sentiment – may have tipped the vote, Swiss electors on Sunday clearly rejected limiting migration to Switzerland from EU countries.
Just 38.3 percent of voters accepted the initiative, while 61.7 percent voted no.
While the nationwide vote was therefore relatively clear, as with everything in Switzerland, a look at the cantons does not paint a uniform picture.
Four cantons – Ticino, Schwyz, Glarus and Appenzell Inner Rhoden – all voted in favour of the proposal, albeit by narrow majorities.
In other parts of the country – particularly in border cantons and French-speaking Switzerland – the rejection of the initiative was more emphatic.
Romandy says no
Voters in Vaud, Geneva and Neuchâtel were particularly strong in their rejection of the initiative.
In total, 71 percent of Neuchâtel and Vaud voters rejected the initiative, along with 69 percent of voters in Geneva.
Voters in Basel City were however the most strongly opposed to limiting migration, with almost three in four (74.6 percent) of voters rejecting it.
Two thirds (65.7 percent) of voters in Switzerland’s largest canton – Zurich – also indicated their opposition.
Ticino votes yes
Ticino – where sentiment has been rising against cross-border workers for some time – was the largest canton in Switzerland to vote in favour of the initiative.
The 53.1 percent of voters in the Italian-speaking canton who supported the initiative was however much lower than in relation to the similar vote in 2014, where 68 percent voted in favour of restricting migration.
As reported in Swiss daily NZZ, voters in Ticino are particularly sensitive to issues of migration due to the high number of cross-border workers in the canton.
“In the past, the southern canton has regularly opposed bills that favour bilateral agreements and, in particular, the free movement of persons” the paper wrote on Monday, September 28th.
In Ticino, the number of cross-border workers has doubled since freedom of movement was introduced in 2002.
Almost one third of the 227,000 jobs in Ticino belongs to a cross-border worker.
Locals are concerned that this leads to “wage dumping” and the prioritisation of foreign workers over locals.
The influence of corona?
SVP politicians in Ticino blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the outcome of the vote.
Marco Chiesa, President of the Swiss People’s Party, is from the canton of Ticino.
Chiesa said the pandemic slowed the momentum of the migration limitation campaign, with SVP members having less of a chance to engage with the public directly on the issue.
Ticino political expert Oscar Mazzoleni said the pandemic reinforced the importance of cross-border workers to Switzerland – and to the southern canton.
Mazzoleni said the findings showed how reliant Ticino is on cross-border workers, particularly in the health and service sector.
In the canton of Ticino, one in five healthcare workers lives over the border in Italy – approximately 4,000 people. Ticino’s population swells from approximately 360,000 people to 440,000 during an average work day due to cross-border workers from Italy.
Mazzoleini added that the management of the pandemic saw Bern gain popularity among voters in Ticino, particularly the way in which the government handled Switzerland’s borders.