Swiss voters voted by a large majority against a proposal to restrict the free movement of people from the European Union, according to a first exit poll.
A large majority of 63 percent voted in the binding referendum against the proposal of the right-wing People’s Party (SVP). 37 percent were in favor, according to a first count by the Swiss broadcaster SRF.
Switzerland has signed a treaty with the EU, which allows the country to move freely from the member states. The Swiss People’s Party wants to take immigration into its own hands and scrap the agreement. Earlier, the party won a referendum by a narrow majority to impose a quota on immigration.
Almost every poll predicted that the proposal would not win a majority among Swiss voters. Had the proposal been approved, it could also have seriously endangered ties with the EU, the country’s largest trading partner.
The People’s Party says the current liberal arrangement has attracted an average of 75,000 EU citizens per year, causing overpopulation, rising housing costs and an overloaded welfare system, according to the party.
But opponents of the plan fear that the shortage of skilled workers will increase and Switzerland’s wealth will be at risk.
Some 68 percent of the 2.1 million foreigners in Switzerland are citizens of the EU, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein; countries that, like Switzerland, have signed the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA).
The treaty also allows Swiss citizens to travel freely in and out of the EU. About 450,000 Swiss live in the European Union.