Share This Page

Swiss voters back limit on immigration

| Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, 6:57 p.m.

GENEVA — Voters in Switzerland narrowly backed a proposal to limit immigration Sunday, in a blow for the government after it had warned that the measure could harm the Swiss economy and relations with the European Union.

The decision follows a successful last-minute campaign by nationalist groups that stoked fears of overpopulation and rising numbers of Muslims in the Alpine nation.

Opinion polls before the vote put opponents of the plan in the lead, but as ballot day neared, the gap began to close.

Swiss public television SRF reported that some 50.3 percent of voters eventually backed the proposal to introduce quotas for all types of immigrants. About 49.7 percent voted against it, a difference of fewer than 30,000 votes.

Support was particularly strong in rural areas, while cities such as Basel, Geneva and Zurich rejected the proposal.

The latest decision is likely to have much more far-reaching consequences though, as hundreds of thousands of well-educated foreigners from Germany, France, Italy and other EU countries work in Switzerland.

Before the 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.

The Swiss Bankers Association expressed disappointment with the vote. “We urgently need to hold constructive talks with the EU to explain our position.”

The EU said it regretted the outcome of the vote but would see how the government implements the mandate given to it by voters. The text of the referendum gives the Swiss government some leeway to decide how many immigrants can come to Switzerland each year, and how to divide the quota between different groups.

The text of the referendum requires the government to introduce limits on foreigners' rights to bring in family members or access Swiss social services, and curtail asylum — a move that could dent Switzerland's humanitarian image.

The outcome is a success for the nationalist Swiss People's Party, which has more than a quarter of seats in the lower house of Parliament. The party has won a series of referendums in recent years, including a surprise victory in 2009 when voters approved a plan to ban the construction of minarets.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.