Swiss private sector expresses concern over ‘self-isolation’

Switzerland’s business elite published an appeal in a Swiss newspaper Sunday (12 October) to save the country’s accords with the European Union from unravelling, due to a vote earlier this year to curb immigration from the bloc.

The Swiss government said in June that it would introduce quotas for EU citizens from 2017, after voters in February narrowly backed proposals to curtail immigration. The move could violate a free movement of citizens pact, and threaten Switzerland’s other agreements with the 28 member union.

Switzerland will also vote on an even more radical initiative on 30 November, which proposes capping immigration at just 0.2% of the resident population, or the equivalent of 16,000 people per year.

More than 100 members of Switzerland’s business, economic and political elite signed the appeal, including Swiss Re Chairman Walter Kielholz, Lonza Chairman Rolf Soiron, Nestle Vice-Chairman Andreas Koopmann and former Swiss National Bank Chairman Jean-Pierre Roth, Schweiz am Sonntag said.

The document, published on the newspaper’s website without a full list of signatories, warned against Switzerland’s “self-isolation”.

“[We] ask all citizens, particularly the young, to take part in a realistic dialogue on Europe based on facts, with the aim of giving Switzerland a coherent, long-term policy in this area that will allow the country to represent its interests in a European context with success,” the announcement said.

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

ABB Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer told Swiss magazine Bilanz in October that Switzerland should think twice before implementing February’s vote too rigidly. 

Switzerland is the third largest economic partner of the EU, after the United States and China. Switzerland is able to participate in the EU's single market thanks to a series of bilateral agreements. This approach suits the Swiss confederation, but its complexity has become problematic for the EU and attempts were up to now under way to simplify the relationship.

Despite the country's wealth and economic success, immigration is a hot-button issue in Switzerland where the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) has long blamed rising rents, crowded public transport and higher crime on an influx of foreigners.

Switzerland’s immigration policy is based on free movement of people from the EU and allowing a restricted number of non-EU citizens to enter the country. Swiss industry heavyweights such as drugmakers Roche and Novartis as well as banks UBS and Credit Suisse have traditionally looked outside the country for highly skilled and specialised staff.

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