Swiss did not weigh consequences of referendum, EU says

Limits on immigration are widely opposed by Swiss businesses, as they rely heavily on foreign labour in all areas of the economy.

The Swiss may not have weighed up all the consequences of voting in a referendum for immigration quotas for EU citizens, an EU official said yesterday (10 February).


EU warns Switzerland of consequences after anti-immigration referendum


“I am not sure that all the consequences [of a vote to introduce immigration quotas] have been part of the debate in Switzerland ahead of the referendum,” an EU official told reporters.

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union. The results are likely to put EU-Swiss relations to the test, as the Union sees the free movement of persons as a “sacred” principle which cannot be dissociated from the free movement of goods and services.

The proposal may have looked simple to Swiss voters, as it referred to quotas on immigration. But now they realise that this has consequences on issues such as railroad or air transport, the official said.

One million of EU citizens living in Switzerland and 400,000 Swiss citizens living in EU countries feel anxiety following the referendum, as they would find themselves in “some kind of limbo” which could have “quite destabilising consequences for some of these people personally”, the official added.

The Guillotine Clause

The official insisted that the vote would not trigger in itself immediate consequences.

“We don’t know when this is going to happen and how the Swiss government envisages taking the issue forward”, the official said, explaining that in theory at least, the Swiss government had three years to enact the referendum results.

“Clearly, this [enacting the referendum results] would not be acceptable to the EU”, he said, adding that such step would have “very serious consequences for EU-Swiss relations across the board”.

If and when the Swiss authorities enact the referendum results by introducing quotas to EU citizens, this will represent a breach of the existing EU-Switzerland agreements and will trigger the so-called “guillotine clause”.

The Guillotine Clause in EU-Switzerland agreements stipulates that if one agreement is terminated, then the entire body of treaties will be null and void. What this means is not that “trains will stop running and airplanes would stop flying”, but “it would make life much more complicated”, the official said.

But the Guillotine Clause can be triggered only by unanimity among the EU members. Asked if the UK would back the use of the Guillotine Clause on an issue such as immigration quotas, which has recently been advocated by Prime Minister David Cameron himself, the EU official said he would not speculate.

The Croatia issue

The EU official made it clear that in the short term, a possible non-extension of the free movement of persons to Croatia by Switzerland is expected to have consequences. He explained that the extension of the free movement of persons to Croatia, which joined the EU on 1 July last year, was seen until now as a technicality and was expected to happen from 1 July 2014. But now EU officials fear that this would pose problems on the Swiss side and they would not be able to proceed with this step and announce a suspension.

In that case, the EU might “assess the consequences” of on-going negotiations with Switzerland, particularly in the area of free movement in research programs such as Horizon 2020 and education program such as Erasmus+. This would mean that the EU would suspend the negotiation of those agreements with Switzerland.

Negotiation mandate

As paradoxical as it may appear, regarding the ongoing discussions for a new EU-Switzerland institutional framework, the EU expects that next week a negotiating mandate would be agreed at the level of EU ambassadors without difficulty. Switzerland has already agreed such a mandate.

“This vote underlines the need of an overarching institutional framework governing our relations and getting away from sectorial bilateral relations”, the official said.

EU officials also said that the Swiss referendum could indirectly affect relations in the Schengen framework, because in their words if immigration quotes are introduced, controls at the borders are likely to be introduced on the Swiss side. Switzerland is full member of the EU border-free Schengen area.

Power agreement frozen

In the meantime, the European Commission has stopped talks with Switzerland on a cross-border electricity agreement, a spokeswoman for the EU executive said yesterday.

The Commission has been seeking closer power trading ties with Switzerland to complement a common energy market for the EU, which it has a deadline to complete this year.

"No technical negotiations on the electricity agreement between Switzerland and the EU are foreseen for the moment," Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger said. "The way forward needs to be analysed in view of the broader context of the bilateral relations."


Reuters quoted EU ministers in Brussels commenting the results of the Swiss referendum:

"Switzerland has rather damaged itself with this result," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on arrival in Brussels for a meeting with his EU colleagues. "Switzerland must realise that cherry picking with the EU is not a long-term strategy."

"There will be consequences, that's clear," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "You can't have privileged access to the European internal market and on the other hand, dilute free circulation."

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore called the result "very disturbing".  

  • 11 Feb.: Swiss authorities are expected to make statements following the referendum
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Iwantout's picture

“ “I am not sure that all the consequences [of a vote to introduce immigration quotas] have been part of the debate in Switzerland ahead of the referendum,” an EU official told journalists.” There are two ways of looking at this type of comment. Firstly to thank the gods that that we have such clear sighted and understanding officials who are able to divine what is in the best interests of us all despite our occasional lapses. Or secondly to stand open mouthed at such arrogant undemocratic sentiments expressed by an unelected official who is our servant.

I must admit I was not aware until this item that the activation of the guillotine clauses required unanimity on the side of the EU. Personally I could easily imagine a head of steam building up in the UK to support the Swiss and to refuse to void the treaties.

But regardless, the question remains why you need free movement of people to have trade deals ? It might be a crucial article of faith for the EU but if the Swiss people have decided that they just want trade then the EU will just have to accept the fact that they cannot have their way. In the event that the EU decide to restrict trade because the Swiss are refusing to allow uncontrolled migration then we will simply see that once again the entire edifice of the EU is built on bullying.

In the final analysis the Swiss are not trying to prohibit migration or foreign residence, just to control it. Indeed much as the EU does with countries outside the EU.

Wilfred Aspinall's picture

It is the sovereign right of all nations to establish immigration policies that suit the people of that country.

If this is what Switzerland have decided in a referendum that is what they want.

The EU official ho indicated that the Swiss donor know the consequences is being most unpolitet the intelligent people of Switzerland.

Reember the word "democracy"

Let's have a vote on whether he/ she keeps their job

philipspain's picture

And as usual the EU didn't get what it wanted and so the threats come out. The EU is nothing more than a dictatorial civil service. Where its elected its done so with a tiny public vote, which display's that the vast amount of Europeans don't see the EU as important, couldn't care less or just don't want it. But the faceless unelected unaccountable commisioners with the real powere are the dictators.
Its their failure to take on board the mind of the public that will distroy the EU.

terreverte's picture

Regardless of whether someone wants out of the EU or not, one must be amazed at the hubris of the Commission to question the democratic process. But we should not be surprised. The Commission is well known for taking the view that a country's citizen's must keep voting (on treaties) until they get it right (that is, approve -- think of Ireland). Switzerland is an autonomous country, with a variety of deals with the EU and like many they are reflecting on whether these deals are really in their best interests. Oh that the many shotgun marriages that have been a constant feature of European membership could reflect again without the constant nagging of unelected officials, who find democratic process a nuisance to their own authoritarian objectives.

They should, however, be aware that their behaviour in this respect may fuel the fire threatening to engulf them by being just more evidence of their extreme disconnection from the real world.

In the end, do you trust the Commission? Ah, Habermas where are you when you are most needed.... (i.e. "legitimation crisis").

Richard's picture

I agree with what has been said above. We are seeing the usual process of "encouraging" the voters to go back to the ballet box in order to produce the "correct result" and the suggestion that they only voted in the wrong fashion because they are ignorant fools. Just as with the Irish referendum where they had to vote again - oddly enough, any vote that is a "yes" wins praise for the wisdom of the voters and is regarded as set in stone for all eternity. In other words, it is a one-way street.

As has been said, the Swiss have not voted to end immigration, only to control it. European officials speak as though Switzerland has instantly closed it's borders - that is not so.

All they have done is to say - if you wish to come and live in our home, then we reserve the right to decide whether you may or may not do so - and how many of you there can be.