This initiative of the Center Democratic Union Party (UDC, Conservative, right) enjoys only 35% favorable opinions, according to a recent poll broadcast by the National Radio and Television RTS.
In the event of a UDC victory, Berne’s relations with Brussels – the country’s largest trading partner – could be strained.
The UDC, which has already won surprise victories in its long “war” against European influence, warns that this rich Alpine country is facing “uncontrolled and excessive immigration” and that “Swiss jobs are under threat.”
The initiative, which is being voted on in Switzerland’s direct democracy system, calls for the country to revise its constitution to ensure it can manage migration policy autonomously.
“We need to regain our share of the sovereignty of controlling immigration,” Vincent Schaller, a UDC member of the Geneva municipal parliament, told AFP.
“UDC wants an immigration to be chosen,” he said at a booth near a market square in the city to discuss the referendum with the public.
He was flanked by one of the party’s most provocative posters regarding the referendum, which features a jeans-backed back with a yellow star belt like the one on the EU flag, placed on a map of Switzerland, and the slogan “What what is too much is too much! ”
“We are in favor of quality immigration, not quantity immigration,” said Elvira Voskresenskaia, a UDC member.
Renegotiation of the free movement agreement with the EU
Despite not being an EU member state, Switzerland is bound by the Union through a number of close bilateral agreements.
If the UDC initiative is adopted, the Swiss authorities would have a year to negotiate their exit from the agreement on the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the European bloc, concluded with Bruelles in 1999.
This initiative goes even further than the one adopted in 2014 and provides for Berne to impose migration quotas on EU Member States.
The victory at the end of 2014 jeopardized Switzerland’s relations with the EU. Brussels then threatened that any restriction on the migration of European citizens would threaten a number of bilateral agreements.
Bern has long struggled to find a way to respect the popular will, without permanently alienating its EU neighbors.
However, following lengthy negotiations, an agreement reached at the end of 2016 does not include the initial plan to impose quotas on residence permits issued to European citizens, which Brussels strongly rejected.
Berne had to be content to ask Swiss employers to take some administrative steps before hiring Europeans and to give priority to the Swiss unemployed, at least in appearance.
The UDC condemned this compromise as a “betrayal” and launched its new initiative.
The 2014 referendum has remained imprinted in the Swiss collective memory, but concerns about migration appear to have eased. Recent polls show that about 65% of Swiss people oppose the UDC initiative.
“Conditions have changed a lot compared to 2014,” political scientist Pascal Sciarni of the University of Geneva told AFP.
He points out that research has shown that a number of people who voted in favor of the UDC initiative in 2014 have changed their minds, after realizing that the EU is not changing its position on certain principles.
UCD is more isolated than ever, and the government, parliament, trade unions, employers’ organizations and all other political parties are urging voters to reject the initiative.
They emphasize the importance of relations with the EU in the country’s economy, especially in border regions such as Geneva or Basel, where many people cross the EU border every day to come to work.
The government also warned that if Switzerland unilaterally cancels the free movement agreement, a “guillotine” clause will enter into force and block all Swiss agreements with the EU, including in the area of trade.
In Sunday’s referendum, Swiss voters are also voting on a number of other issues – including the opportunity to allocate six billion Swiss francs (5.6 billion euros / 6.6 billion dollars) to buy. new fighter jets or the opportunity to give two weeks of paternity leave to new fathers.