Recent events have created somewhat fractious political relationships within Europe. The UK’s referendum and strike action from French unions have both caused a political stir across the continent, however, there remains one divisive subject at the forefront of all discussion and debate: immigration.
While the issue of immigration has raged across the continent, Switzerland in particular has found itself in the midst of the debate following a 2014 vote in favour of measures that would place strict quotas on immigration to Switzerland from EU countries. Proposed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the 2014 referendum returned a ‘yes’ vote and now Switzerland and the EU are under pressure to come to an agreement as to how they will proceed, with European Parliament president Martin Schulz informing a Swiss television channel that agreements must now be reached “relatively quickly”.
Switzerland has until February 2017 to implement the measures. The challenge, however, lies within the fact that limiting immigration would invalidate Switzerland’s agreements on the freedom of movement with the EU. A recent study examining how the abandonment of free movement and closure of borders would affect a particular Swiss canton, Vaud, has highlighted the potentially damaging consequences of imposing limits on immigration.
Reporting on the study, an article by Patrick Chuard claimed that Vaud, one of Switzerland’s largest economic cantons, would have “everything to lose” in the event of border closures. The canton’s manufacturing industry, which accounts for 14 per cent of Vaud’s GDP, would see significant losses, Chuard argues, as the closure of borders could result in a mass labour shortage. With this, Chuard argues that Vaud would be significantly “less rich” without immigrants. As the third largest canton in terms of population, Vaud’s economic position directly impacts the rest of the country and Switzerland’s other prominent industries, watchmaking, catering and accommodation, could also see a major slump following quotas on immigration.
Echoing much of Chuard’s concerns, a group of Swiss citizens are attempting to reverse the controversial measure by collecting the requisite 100,000 signatures in order for the issue to go to another referendum – the same process used by the SVP to introduce the proposed quotas. While it still remains unclear as to what direction Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will take, the two parties recently discussed the issue during a visit to Mongolia and concluded that a “solution by mutual agreement” will soon be decided.
With immigration such a current and divisive issue across Europe, it is difficult to predict exactly what form the solution will take. What we do know for certain, however, is that the ramifications of forced quotas on immigration could severely impact the Swiss economy and businesses within the country are already beginning to raise their concerns.