Before the referendum, the country is again presented as xenophobic. The initiative of the SVP wants to achieve only what many EU states want: that the right people come.
Contrary to popular misinformation, which is repeatedly spread in German newspapers against better knowledge, Switzerland is a cosmopolitan, foreigner-friendly country. The share of foreigners in the permanent resident population is over 23 percent, a record in both absolute and relative terms.
For centuries, liberal Switzerland has been a magnet for proficient non-Swiss people from all over the world. This is evidenced by powerful immigrant industrial dynasties such as Brown Bovery, Nestlé, Hayek or Ringier. “Purebred” original Swiss hardly exist. Even the patriotic SVP politician Christoph Blocher is half home German, his family immigrated only a few generations ago.
Switzerland is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world and certainly the most cosmopolitan, most international, multilingual country in Europe. Which, of course, does not prevent the foreign press from asserting the opposite on a chronic and fictitious note?
Nobody wants to roll out a barbed wire
If Switzerland is so cosmopolitan, why will a referendum on a popular initiative take place next weekend, with the goal of limiting immigration and renegotiating the bilateral treaty with the EU on the free movement of persons?
The fact is that in Switzerland in broad circles, from left to right, from bottom to top, at first creeping, now more rapidly a discomfort at the continuously increasing immigration for years spreads. Skepticism is not an underclass phenomenon of frustrated “modernization losers,” as sociologists point out.
Rather, it is based on a well-founded mistrust of a policy of open borders that is perceived as being uncontrolled, the consequences of which are gradually being viewed and measured. It is found that the intellectually stimulating, thought-out by smart people free movement in practice just does not work properly.
Certainly: The Swiss are friendly to business. They are well aware that their companies have always relied on foreign labor for lack of local personnel. They know that Switzerland benefits from its historic openness and cannot simply retire to the allotments of self-sufficiency or resentment. Nobody wants to roll out a barbed wire.
Earlier government forecasts were wrong
What is currently being discussed in a direct democratic and civilized, passionate manner is the question of whether the troubled system of free movement of persons with the EU can at best be replaced by a better model tailored to the needs of an independent, affluent micro-state. It’s not about the question: immigration yes or no? The question is: which immigration and how much?
Not even the fiercest opponents of the “mass immigration initiative” launched by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) would deny that the free movement of people has a downside. When Switzerland voted for the first time twelve years ago on the bilateral agreement on freedom of movement with the EU, the Federal Council reassured itself with proven false figures. The government predicted an almost insignificant net migration of 8,000 to 10,000 people annually to dispel skepticism.
In fact, since the introduction of the free movement of persons in 2007, there have been about ten times more, at least 70,000 people a year, lastly 85,000 persons were net, and the trend persisted. Thanks to the free movement of persons, Switzerland grows each year to the extent of a larger city such as Lucerne or St. Gallen – with all subsequent costs and effects on traffic density, house prices, wage pressure and rents. “Dictatress” has become the household word.
Official statistics show the problems
The business associations have been papering all the billboards for months to convince the increasingly suspicious audience of the benefits of the free movement of persons. But the sheer million-dollar propaganda effort is an indication that the messages do not really want to get caught.
The economy argues with increasing prosperity. However, the fact is that workers do not have much of the growth of their businesses, as wages tend to fall due to the oversupply of European jobseekers, while at the same time prices are rising due to immigration-driven domestic demand.
In addition, official statistics of the federal government, which show that the social works are burdened by the immigration provide for displeasure. In 2013, the proportion of foreigners in the total population was 23.3 percent. However, the share of foreigners in the unemployment fund was high at 47 percent, disability pensions at 46.2 percent and social assistance at 45.4 percent (2011).
EU interventions are counterproductive
According to studies by the major bank UBS, since 2008 mainly non-qualified Germans and Northern Europeans are migrating, but especially poorly qualified southern Europeans from Greece, Spain and Portugal. They come legally without a valid employment contract and may stay for up to one year on job search. Whether they really go home in case of failure is unclear. The dangers of “poverty immigration” are not a figment of the imagination.
Rarely has a vote with greater tension been expected. Many EU officials have interfered in advance with teachings and threats to get the stubborn Confederates on track.
Experience has shown that such interventions are counterproductive, partly because the bilateral agreements on the free movement of persons explicitly give the contracting parties the opportunity to renegotiate at any time and especially in the case of economic or social adversities.
Even with Germans and British it rumbles
Most observers expect a brief rejection of the referendum. Brussels could breathe easy and speak of a “wise decision”. However, if Switzerland were to succeed in restricting the free movement of persons by democratic means, this would be an earthquake and a signal.
Switzerland would strengthen its independence under the curses of Brussels against the EU. In the EU, the real disgust of many Europeans over the free movement of people, which was undemocratic over the minds of citizens, could not easily be kept under the lid. Especially in Germany and the UK it is already rumbling. The call for more democracy would, rightly, louder.
Once again, all eyes are on Switzerland – the last independent, citizen-oriented and thus real democracy in Europe.