Before we go any further with this story, which I expect most of my readers know already, here is a clip from a well known film that sums up the comments that have been emanating from Brussels and various europhiliac organizations:
As any fule kno, the cuckoo clock was actually invented in Germany but this is a great scene in a brilliant film.
Now for the story: the Swiss have voted narrowly in a referendum in favour of reintroducing quotas on immigration from the EU thus upsetting the previous agreement for freedom of movement and generally upsetting the EU (cannot be done too often, especially by a country like Switzerland).
In a nail-biting vote, 50.3 percent backed the "Stop mass immigration" initiative, which also won the required majority approval in more than half of Swiss cantons or regions, Swiss television said.What the EU would like to do now is to punish Switzerland in some hitherto unspecified fashion but that seems rather difficult. Switzerland, despite being outside the great EU, is a rich and powerful country and a magnet for many businesses, especially in those Cantons that sensibly kept their corporate tax level very low. Despite that fact, the threats have started:
The outcome obliges the government to turn the initiative, spearheaded by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), into law within three years.
It reflects growing concern among the Swiss population that immigrants are eroding the nation's distinctive Alpine culture and contributing to rising rents, crowded transport and more crime.
Net immigration runs at around 70,000 people per year on average. Foreigners make up 23 percent of the population of 8 million, second in Europe only to Luxembourg.
"This is an enormously important decision because the direction must now be shifted," SVP politician Luzi Stamm told Swiss television. "The Swiss population have said that, instead of free movement of people, quotas have to be introduced."
"For us, EU-Swiss relations come as a package," said Hannes Swoboda, a member of the European Parliament. "If Switzerland suspends immigration from the EU, it will not be able to count on all the economic and trade benefits it is currently enjoying. We will not allow ... cherry-picking."There are dire predictions that the Swiss will be made to vote again but that, too, seems unlikely as they are not and have never been part of the European Union, whose members can be made to vote often until they get the right result. And suppose, EU pressure prevails and another referendum is called on the subject in Switzerland? The most likely outcome of that will be an even bigger margin in favour of those quotas. Analysis on the BBC site tries to weigh up the possibilities:
So the Swiss have chosen to regain control over migration even though it risks undermining the relationship with Brussels. There will not just be quotas but also restrictions on the right of foreigners to bring in family members and access social services. Businesses must give Swiss nationals priority when hiring staff. There will be a new clause in the constitution stating that migration must serve the nation's economic interest.But it is not only Switzerland that is facing a few problems:
Many of the precise details of the quotas have yet to be worked out and the current system will continue in the meantime. But all eyes will be on the reaction from Brussels. As the government in Switzerland admitted, "the new constitution runs contrary to the agreement on the free movement of people". It accepts that its relationship with the EU will have to be put on a new footing.
For Brussels there are no easy options. Free movement of people is one of its core principles. It sees it as integral to the single market. It has reminded the UK of this and if it embraces a compromise with the Swiss, other countries might chose to follow.Mind you, following Switzerland's example is not so easy for countries that are part of the European Union rather than just have a set of agreements with it but it will be interesting to see how the negotiations for a new relationship will shape up. Britain cannot emulate Switzerland - the situation is very different and we would have to bring about that Brexit first - but ideas for the future may well be picked up.
And yet European officials will also be aware that with the European elections pending in May, there will be many anti-establishment parties pushing for the same restrictions as the Swiss voted for. Brussels will believe it has to defend a core principle, yet it will also be aware of how strongly the immigration issue plays with voters.
Whether UKIP will benefit from this in the forthcoming Euro elections is another matter.