TOPICS > World

Swiss referendum to limit immigration complicates economic relations with EU

February 12, 2014 at 6:44 PM EST
Switzerland immigration voting
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a new referendum in Switzerland to limit immigration is threatening the country’s economic ties with Europe. And it’s raising questions about the rise of anti-immigrant groups across the continent.

By a razor-thin margin, just over 50 percent, Swiss voters on Sunday supported imposing quotas on how many foreigners are allowed to enter the country.

MAN (through interpreter): I am for it because I think we need to start to control the arrival of foreigners. Other countries do it, the United States, Australia. So, I think we should do the same thing.

JEREMY SAITI (through interpreter): Everything is about the economy because people are afraid that immigrants will come here en masse and take their jobs, which, in my opinion, is wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The “stop mass immigration” initiative was launched by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, or SVP, which holds a quarter of the seats in Parliament. The group focused heavily on fears of overpopulation and a rising number of Muslim immigrants.

It also complicates relations with the European Union. Switzerland is not a member, but does have trade pacts with the 28-nation bloc.

In a radio interview Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned the vote jeopardizes those arrangements.

LAURENT FABIUS, Foreign Minister, France (through interpreter): In concrete terms, since 1999, there have been agreements with Switzerland with regards to free movement of workers mainly, but also to many elements, such that if one element comes under question, in this case the free movement of workers, everything collapses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, the influence of anti-immigrant factions has been rising across Europe, from Greece, to Italy, Spain, Britain, and the Netherlands.

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore.

EAMON GILMORE, Foreign Minister, Ireland: I think this is a very disturbing vote. I think we have seen throughout Europe a growth in what I can only call an extreme right agenda, which is quite xenophobic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Swiss vote could also signal greater support for anti-immigrant candidates running in European Parliament elections this May.