SWISS voters have soundly rejected an initiative to put a cap on immigration in the name of environmental concerns.
According to preliminary results last night, almost three-quarters of voters said No in a referendum spearheaded by Ecopop, a group of leftist greens who claimed the country was being “buried under concrete” due to the growing influx of foreigners.
The five million people eligible to vote also rebuffed two further proposals, including one to force the central bank to increase its gold reserves and another to scrap a flat tax for rich expatriates.
“Switzerland screams a straightforward No, No, No!” the business daily Handelszeitung wrote.
If successful, the Ecopop initiative would have seen net immigration slashed to just 0.2 per cent of the population, reducing the numbers of foreigners moving to Switzerland from about 80,000 to 16,000 a year.
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Ecopop had argued that the Alpine country’s resources were insufficient to support mass immigration, which it argued was damaging the landscape.
The group, which was formed 40 years ago by academics, ecologists and feminists, also proposed using 10 per cent of the country’s overseas aid budget for family-planning projects in the developing world.
The anti-immigrant initiative, which united left-wing ecologists and far-right thinkers, has drawn huge criticism from around the world and led to an unprecedented counter-campaign by business leaders, the government and mainstream parties, who argued it would do considerable damage to the economy and would isolate Switzerland from the European Union.
Yesterday’s vote came after a referendum in February in which the country voted in favour of reintroducing immigration quotas, which effectively meant it has opted out of a free-movement agreement with the EU.
Initial results yesterday indicated that 74 per cent of voters had rejected Ecopop’s initiative, while as many as 78 per cent turned down the so-called gold initiative, which economists had warned could cause the gold price to soar if passed.
Sixty per cent of voters rejected the flat tax proposal, according to the polling institute gfs.bern.
All three issues on the table were highly emotive and had triggered unusually passionate and often aggressive debate in a country where consensus has a long tradition.
The gold initiative was led by a small group of right-wing radicals, while the scrapping of the flat tax for rich expatriates was brought forward by a small left-wing group.
Under Swiss law, any petition signed by 100,000 voters must go to a popular vote.
All the issues were seen to be indicative of a nationwide bout of soul-searching over the future of a country that has enjoyed huge economic success based on striking a balance between its independence and an internationalist outlook.
While the Swiss enjoy living standards and wages among the world’s highest, there has been increasing discontent that the country is showing signs of strain and overcrowding, and excessive development of both urban and rural areas.
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