The results of a referendum in Switzerland that proposed to maintain immigration to 0.2% of the population has seen about 74% of people voting for unrestricted immigration. Supporters of the proposals reasoned that the proposed rate of immigration might have maintained Switzerland’s resources more efficiently whilst opponents stated that a cap on immigration may have affected the movement of skilled workers.
The proposals might have meant that the country may have been able to allow just 16,000 immigrants to inhabit the country annually. With around a quarter of Switzerland’s eight million population being of foreign origin the proposals might have been a significant change in the country’s immigration policy. The referendum was a result of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy where a referendum is called if citizens are able to gain enough signatures in support of it.
The proposals was nicknamed the Ecopop measures named after a movement that looks to link the protection of the environment and a cap on the levels of immigration. Supporters of the movement highlighted the building of new housing and potential increased transport systems that an increasing population requires which might have effect the environment and natural resources of Switzerland.
Furthermore, the proposals also included a provision to help population challenges abroad by using 10% of Switzerland’s overseas aid spending on family planning for populations within developing nations.
According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO), Switzerland’s population is around 8.18 million which includes around 1.98 million non-Swiss nationals. Within these non-Swiss nationals the majority are EU nationals who live there through Switzerland’s close relationship with the European Union whilst remaining independent and being a non-member state itself. Switzerland maintains a close relationship with the European Union through its free trade agreement and, according to the EU, the European Union accounts for 64.7% of Switzerland’s foreign trade. Furthermore, Switzerland signed an agreement with the EU on freedom of movement in 1999 which allowed EU citizens to enter, live and work within Swiss territory.
The Ecopop measures were based on a belief in the need to maintain control on population in order to maintain a sustainable reliance on the country’s resources. However, most political parties believed that the proposals might challenge the economy as the current levels of immigration allow businesses to employ the most effective workers available to them, regardless of nationality. Furthermore, the belief that skilled workers from across Europe are important factors to the Swiss economy also seems to have been confirmed by the electorate.
Considering the closeness of the relationship between Switzerland and the European Union the results of the referendum may be an indication of the reception of immigration elsewhere on the continent. With immigration being a key campaigning topic for parties across Europe who believe that leaving the EU to be the remedy to immigration levels. However, the result of the Swiss referendum might highlight the economic benefits that immigration brings through the EU’s freedom of movement which allows people to reside and work anywhere within the union.
The concept of immigration boosting the economy has been supported in the UK by the recent publication of a report by the University College in which it states that the United Kingdom actually gained £20 billion between 2000 and 2011; which far outweighs what is claimed through benefits through the same demographic. Equally the study, The Fiscal Impact of Immigration to the UK which was published in the Economic Journal, found that over 60% of immigrants from Western and Southern Europe are now university graduates which might be seen to highlight the levels of skilled labour migration within the EU.
It might seem that immigration is still an important topic both within the European Union and its neighbours such as Switzerland. Furthermore, the attempt to use resources sustainably whilst also promoting economically beneficial immigration might be seen as an area where development may be an answer to the questions on immigration currently being asked throughout the EU and Switzerland.
How might the results of the referendum bring productive benefits to the EU and Switzerland?