Monday, February 10, 2014

The Swiss are different

Well, for one thing they have never bothered to be part of Europe or so I recall some stupid politician describing their action in rejecting the blandishments of the European Union. How a country that is right in the middle of Europe can be not part of it is a mystery that only a political mind can save.

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.

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."
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:
"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.

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.
But it is not only Switzerland that is facing a few problems:
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.

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.
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.

Whether UKIP will benefit from this in the forthcoming Euro elections is another matter.

4 comments:

  1. I heard Viviane Redding (sp?) on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning. Essentially her argument was that a lot of people want to migrate, therefore it should be allowed. She also pointed out the large numbers of UK citizens living abroad, and that the UK is apparently the third largest exporter of migrants in the World. She also asserted that most EU immigrants to the UK are in employment, it's the immigrants from other areas that are the problem. All of which might be true, but doesn't address the question of whether countries should be allowed to set their own immigration policies, although the inference was clearly not.

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    1. As I said above, the Swiss and the British positions are different. For the UK to make decisions of that kind some truly radical rearrangement will have to be done. But it is true to say that there are many UK citizens who have decided to migrate to other EU member states and this will have to be considered in any future rearrangements.

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  2. The Bilateral Agreement that Switzerland has with the EU covers temporary workers, not immigration as the right-wing misrepresent.

    The only pratical difference this will make for EU citizens coming to Switzerland is that once the quota of five-year temporary permits is reached each year, the rest of them will get one-year temporary permits.
    Immigration into Switzerland is an entirely different matter which is not subject to any agreement with the EU.

    Personally I think it's the wrong way around. The EU should apply to join Switzerland, a country that learned to get along and work together in spite of language and cultural differences and to keep thier noses out of other people's business centuries ago.

    It's a pity the UK couldn't have done the same.

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