Swiss party heading for victory wants to ban immigration
A FAR-right party heading for a record margin of victory in general elections on Sunday has announced plans to turn Switzerland into an immigrant-free bastion.
Polls show that the Swiss People's Party (SVP) is likely to seal its place as Europe's most successful populist political force after a campaign targeting immigrants, whom its posters depict as black boots trampling on the Swiss flag.
As the election campaign drew to a close, the SVP announced that it had gathered the requisite 100,000 signatures to call a referendum, under Swiss direct democracy laws, on withdrawing from freedom of travel arrangements with the European Union.
This would mean a return to quotas of migrants from the EU, including Britain, limiting access to the Alpine state and reversing a decade of openness.
Analysts have dismissed the move as an election stunt, not least because a referendum would take up to two years to organise, but it fits a pattern of anti-immigrant campaigns backed by the SVP. These include the recent vote in the lower chamber of parliament to ban the Muslim veil, as well as a referendum last year in which Swiss voters backed a ban on the building of minarets.
European companies would have to go through bureaucratic application procedures for their non-Swiss employees and EU visitors would lose the automatic right to stay there.
“This seems like a last try to get some attention before the election,” said Georg Lutz, the director of Swiss Electoral Studies at the Swiss Foundation for Research in Social Sciences in Lausanne. “I do not think it will make too much difference to the election outcome because the Swiss People's Party is so far ahead. But it would be a disaster for Switzerland because if they managed to get it through it could mean the end of other bilateral agreements with the EU.
“It is popular, however - there has been a lot of immigration and in certain areas it puts quite serious pressure on the housing market.”
Researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany, commissioned by the Swiss Liberal Party, have warned that breaching the freedom of movement agreement would lead to the EU cancelling other bilateral arrangements.
Switzerland is not in the EU but it has agreed to allow freedom of cross-border transit and employment for fellow Europeans, and its citizens to travel and work freely across the continent.
Silvia Bar, the SVP deputy-general secretary, said that she simply wanted Switzerland to return to its pre-2002 position of running its borders and immigration.
“We have the problem that there are too many coming from Europe and especially from Germany. They always say they are qualified people but we are not talking about professors of chemistry, it is just anyone who has a degree at university now,” she said.
She denied that the SVP played on fears of foreigners or racism. “If you do not speak about things that people see on a daily basis, you will see racism come. That is why we are talking frankly and clearly about problems we have.”