Swiss voters narrowly approved a referendum to impose strict quotas on immigration, effectively ending a “free movement” agreement with the European Union.
The measure passed by just 50.5 percent of the vote. Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, nonetheless has adopted many of the union’s policies.
A coalition led by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) spearheaded the “yes” vote.
The BBC reports that the referendum “has shown up traditional divisions, with French-speaking areas against the quotas, German-speaking regions divided, and the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino firmly in favour.”
The British broadcaster says:
“The vote comes amid increasing debate across Europe about migration and the impact of free movement of people.
“Switzerland’s economy is booming at the moment, and unemployment is low, but many Swiss worry about immigration.
“A quarter of the eight million-strong population is foreign, and last year 80,000 new immigrants arrived.
“Since 2007, most of the EU’s 500 million residents have been on an equal footing with locals in the Swiss job market — the result of a policy voted into law in a 2000 referendum.”
The Associated Press writes:
“The decision means that the Swiss government will need to renegotiate treaties on the free movement of workers that it had painstakingly hammered out with the EU. Until now, citizens from most EU member states could live and work in Switzerland with little formality, while Swiss citizens could do the same in the 28-nation bloc that encircles the Alpine nation.
“Two years ago Switzerland introduced quotas for immigrants from eight central and eastern European nations, a move that already drew heavy criticism from the EU. Ahead of Sunday’s referendum business groups warned that many of the 80,000 people who moved to Switzerland last year are vital for the country’s economy and curtailing immigration further could cost Swiss citizens’ jobs too.”