Swiss favour close EU ties over immigration curbs, poll finds

Switzerland is a member of the EFTA, but not an EU member - one possible future option for the UK. [Matt Tempest/Flickr]

Swiss voters would rather maintain close economic ties with the European Union than adopt immigration curbs that could jeopardise Switzerland’s access to the EU single market, a survey published on Sunday (1 January) showed.

The poll is pertinent as it is analagous to the situation the United Kingdom finds itself in in 2017, as it ponders a ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ Brexit over access to the single market and halting the freedom of movement.

The issue is the thorniest political issue in Switzerland’s relations with the EU, its biggest trading partner. The 28-nation bloc insists on maintaining the principle of free movement of people, as enshrined in bilateral accords with Switzerland.

The Swiss parliament last month dodged a conflict with Brussels by adopting a system of giving unemployed locals hiring preference over EU nationals instead of imposing immigration quotas, as Swiss voters had demanded in a binding 2014 referendum.

Switzerland dodges clash with EU over immigration

Switzerland skirted a direct clash with the European Union over immigration curbs on Friday (2 September) when a parliamentary panel rejected the government’s threat to impose unilateral quotas on foreigners next year in favour of a compromise.

In a poll of 1,000 people conducted by OpinionPlus for the SonntagsBlick newspaper, 47% said they would again vote for immigration curbs as in 2014 versus 43% against.

But 52% opposed a campaign by a right-wing isolationist group to end the free movement rules that underpin bilateral accords permitting Swiss access to the EU single market, with only 30% in favour, the poll found.

If forced to choose between immigration curbs and the bilateral accords, 54% backed the accords and 41% wanted immigration quotas, with 5% unsure.

The Swiss approach to resolving the conflict is being scrutinised for hints of what Britain might expect as it negotiates the terms of its divorce, or ‘Brexit’, from the EU after its own referendum last June.

Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, how voters view the issue remains very important.

SonntagsBlick also quoted Albert Roesti, head of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that champions immigration limits, as saying the question in the poll was wrongly formulated.

“We are convinced that we can implement the (2014) mass immigration initiative without the EU suspending the bilaterals,” he said.

The SVP has said existing bilateral economic accords were too valuable to the EU for Brussels to annul them, while EU leaders have stressed they cannot show leniency to non-EU member Switzerland without encouraging hardline Brexit negotiators.

Brexit delivers blow to Swiss EU hopes

Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery. But it is doubtful if anyone in Switzerland is thanking the City and big bank spin doctors who have come up with the idea that London should seek a Swiss-style relationship with Europe once Brexit is fully consummated, writes Denis MacShane.

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