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Home News Swiss government opposes immigration cap plebiscite

Swiss government opposes immigration cap plebiscite

Published on 23/10/2013

Switzerland said Wednesday it opposes a referendum on capping immigration to rein in overpopulation and protect the environment.

Ecopop, a coalition of environmental campaigners, is pushing for a public vote on setting a 0.2-percent annual limit on population growth through immigration.

It maintains that Switzerland is too small to cope with the annual arrival of tens of thousands of foreigners, and that population growth is placing too much strain on the environment.

However, the government said such restrictions could threaten Switzerland’s trade accords with the European Union. Switzerland is not part of the 28-nation EU but has tight trade ties with it.

The government also said it would mean slashing in a country were foreign workers have long been crucial to the economy.

“Greatly restricting immigration into Switzerland, as proposed by the initiative, would mean that some sectors of the economy would be unable to recruit the workers they require,” it said.

Referenda are the bedrock of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, and in November last year the Ecopop coalition submitted a 120,000-signature petition — 20,000 more than needed to force a vote.

It usually takes around two years to hold a referendum once a petition has been submitted.

Switzerland’s population has grown rapidly since the country’s borders with the EU were opened fully in 2007, when EU citizens were allowed to move freely into the Alpine nation to seek work.

Switzerland is one of the most densely-inhabited countries in the world, with 193 people per square kilometre.

Some 1.9 million of the eight million people currently living there are non-Swiss — 3.3 percent more than in 2012, according to official data.

The highest numbers of immigrants come from Portugal, Kosovo, Germany, Italy and France.

Swiss voters will vote next February on a measure crafted by the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party — the largest in parliament — which wants to reintroduce the immigration quotas for EU citizens which were dropped in 2007.