Switzerland looks to a ‘Swixit’ in a referendum that could limit the entry of EU citizens

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The Union’s divorce proposal, which emanated from the populist right, threatens access agreements to the Single Market

The map of Switzerland cracked because someone with a European Union flag belt is sitting on it. Next to the drawing, a phrase: “Too much is too much! Yes to the initiative of limitation ”. This is one of the campaign posters of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and its initiative “for moderate immigration” that will be voted on this Sunday.

It is the hint of a Swixit by voting whether to suspend the agreement on the free movement of people with the European Union – of which it is not a part -, which would also imply canceling another half a dozen bilateral agreements that regulate the country’s broad access without barriers to the Single Market. If it goes ahead, the initiative “endangers the success of Swiss cities and all of Switzerland,” warns Corine Mauch, mayor of Zurich, the city that is the country’s financial engine; and “of innovation and long-term research”, says Joël Mesot, president of the Federal Polytechnic School (ETH) of Zurich (sixth in the ranking world and first in continental Europe).

Although the Swiss government asks to vote no to the proposal of the populist right and the polls indicate that the initiative will not go ahead, many are not trusted taking into account the background of the votes in other countries with surprise results in the end, as happened in the United Kingdom with Brexit in 2016.

A sample of the latent disagreements in the Helvetic Confederation, with 8.6 million inhabitants, and where one in three is of migrant origin. 61% of the Swiss are against this initiative and 35% in favor, according to a survey by the GFS Bern Institute. The linguistic region that is most opposed is the French-speaking region, with 71%; It is followed by the German, with 59% and then the Italian, with 49%.

“The Government of Zurich rejects the initiative,” says the mayor of the city with the most inhabitants in the country (434,000). Mauch says that “the free movement of people has strengthened the economic power of Swiss cities, increased social diversity, and promoted research and innovation.” Precisely, the cracks that would open in the scientific field, Mesot laments, would add unnecessary uncertainty to an already fragile situation. Only the SVP, which considers that immigration from EU countries is excessive and wants to impose barriers, asks for a vote in favor: “We want to leave our children a beautiful and clean Switzerland”, proclaims in a video Matthias Ritter, regional councilor of the party in the canton of Baselland.

The popular consultation on free movement was scheduled for May, but COVID-19 forced it to be postponed. The campaign has been discreet. There is more movement on the websites and social networks of the far-right party. In one of his sites there are videos of its politicians and voters asking yes, basically because of the following supposed factors: Switzerland is small and space is limited and traffic has increased considerably, both on the roads and in public transport; pressure on the labor market and social security systems increases; Many of the foreign families go directly to the social security system, and the country must remain as sovereign as possible and, despite bilateral treaties with the EU, it must not allow itself to put up with everything. “Switzerland is an independent and strong country”, they finish.

The frustration of many people with the State, especially the unemployed (the country traditionally has a low unemployment rate), has to come out somewhere, Daniel Maerki warned the newspaper Day indicator: “By voting yes, they want to send a signal that politicians cannot ignore. Finally they would have to act ”. For actor and comedian Mike Müller, it is “a stupid proposition to stop working with the EU. It’s a typical right-wing maneuver: what they say in public discussions and show on social media and ads is old Swiss racism. This leads nowhere ”.

Almost all parties are against the initiative, including those of the moderate right, explains Marco Ferrara, secretary general of the PSOE in Lausanne: “It is a xenophobic measure of the never ending story with the extreme right. I do not believe the initiative will prosper, and to do so would have a brutal economic impact on Switzerland. Many regions, especially the border regions have a clear dependence on foreigners ”.

The EU-Switzerland relationship is of more interest to the latter, assures Ferrara. Remember that, for example, half of Switzerland’s exports go to Europe and two-thirds of what Switzerland imports comes from Europe. Some experts, he adds, calculate that the losses for the country would drop its GDP by up to 7%.

Gonzalo Casas, an Argentine computer scientist who works at ETH University, is confident that the SVP will continue to lose strength “with a large part of the electorate moving towards the green and green-liberal parties.” Most of these kinds of xenophobic voting, he adds, “are driven by the need as a society to have a common enemy. Today the common enemy of society is the coronavirus, therefore, the relevance of targeting a different enemy is minimal ”.

For Juan Alejandro Arbeláez Martínez, a 38-year-old Colombian chef who lives in Zurich and with a B permit (work and residence), the initiative would not succeed due to a key factor: “It must be taken into account that the mobility of people is linked to the mobility of capital, with which, restricting the movement of people is a restriction on capital that the Swiss will not be willing to allow ”.

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