Tue, Dec 02, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Switzerland vote rejects quota on foreign workers

NY Times News Service, COLOGNE, Germany

Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to drastically curb the influx of foreigners seeking to work and live in the country in the second major effort this year aimed at restricting immigration.

A broad coalition of business and union leaders had lobbied against the suggested quota on new immigrants amid fears that it would harm Switzerland’s economy and ties to the EU.

Nearly three-quarters of voters rejected the proposal, initiated by an environmental group, to reduce Switzerland’s annual immigration to 0.2 percent of the population, preliminary results released by the federal office for statistics showed.

Voters also rejected a proposal to require the central bank, the Swiss National Bank, to hold 20 percent of its reserves in gold and a third referendum to end tax breaks for wealthy foreigners in Switzerland.

All three proposals had been rejected by the country’s influential business leaders, who are struggling to salvage Swiss relations with the EU after voters in February narrowly supported a movement to reintroduce restrictions on the number of foreigners who are allowed to live and work in the country.

That decision has thrown into question Switzerland’s participation in the freedom-of-movement treaties it had signed with the bloc, prompting a swift response from Brussels, which halted an exchange program for university students and suspended talks on linking Swiss utilities to the EU energy market.

If successful, the proposal on Sunday would have further damaged relations and future prospects for the Swiss economy, Economiesuisse, a lobby group for business interests in Switzerland, said in a statement on Sunday.

“The radical bill would have massively harmed the Swiss economy in the future. A majority of the Swiss people want controls on immigration, but disapprove of strict quotas in the constitution that do not take into account the needs of the economy,” the statement said.

Fears of so-called welfare refugees are rising across Europe as the wealthier countries worry that freedom-of-movement laws are threatening their welfare systems.

Nearly one-quarter of the roughly 8 million inhabitants of Switzerland are foreigners, many of them jobseekers from EU countries, although it is not one of the bloc’s 28 members.

The growth in jobseekers has spurred a backlash among many Swiss, who fear that their country’s generous welfare system and delicate ecosystem cannot withstand a continued influx of outsiders.

Nevertheless, the political will among Swiss voters to uphold the strict quota proposed by the Ecopop environmental group, which would have limited annual immigration to about 16,000 people, appeared to have been dulled by the repercussions of the past nine months.

Ecopop blamed the “overwhelming oppositional propaganda” aimed against their proposal for its defeat on Sunday.

“We regret that the supporters of overwhelming growth won this referendum,” the group said in a statement released hours after the first returns indicated that it would not garner sufficient support for the initiative, “Stop Overpopulation, Save Natural Resources.”

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