Switzerland’s new immigration quotas conflict with EU ‘freedom of movement’ laws

BY Ellen Rolfes  February 10, 2014 at 3:00 PM EST
Photo by Flickr user Kecko

Even though Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, its citizens reap the benefits of passport-free movement across European borders. But with new immigration controls passed by referendum.Photo by Flickr user Kecko

In a vote Sunday, Swiss citizens passed a referendum to enforce immigration quotas for people from European Union countries. The vote, which narrowly passed with 50.4 percent support, conflicts with “free movement of people” agreements between the European Union and Switzerland.

Currently, Swiss citizens can cross several European borders without a passport. But European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that Sunday’s vote for tighter immigration controls, “could affect the Swiss population and their free movement in the EU as well.”

Switzerland’s population has grown annually on average by 74,000 from 2007 to 2012. University of Zurich lecturer Michael Hermann told Bloomberg News that this growth has made many nervous.

“The quick population growth led to anxiety about social change, and people felt Switzerland was losing its identity.”

Swiss business leaders told the AP that immigrants are vital to the nation’s economy and any curb on immigration would cost Swiss citizens’ jobs as well. In the nation’s lucrative chemical, pharaceutical and biotech industry, for example, 45 percent of employees aren’t Swiss.