French foreign minister Laurent Fabius yesterday said Europe would review its relations with Switzerland after a “worrying” Swiss vote to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union.
“It’s a worrying vote because it means that Switzerland wants to withdraw into itself,” Mr Fabius said. “We’re going to review our relations with Switzerland.”
Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals that curtail the relatively free movement of citizens to and from the EU and could unravel bilateral accords with the bloc. The EU represents Switzerland’s biggest trading partner.
The current pact on free movement of people supports Switzerland’s globally oriented economy that employs large numbers of foreign professionals.
The yes vote for the “Stop mass immigration” initiative was also sharply criticised by the European Commission in Brussels, which said it would examine the implications for its relations with Switzerland.
“In my opinion it’s bad news both for Europe and for the Swiss because Switzerland will be penalised economically if it withdraws,” Mr Fabius said.
A spokesman for Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel said that while German officials respected the result, it would create “considerable problems” for Switzerland’s relationship with the EU.
The European Commission said it went against the principle of free movement between Switzerland and the EU that has existed for more than a decade.
“The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole,” the Commission said.
Switzerland is not a member of the 28-nation EU, but a pact with Brussels has ensured the free movement of citizens to and from the bloc since 2002.
The vote to reintroduce immigration quotas, backed by a razor-thin margin of 19,526 voters, threatens that pact, and with it a key pillar of the Swiss economy, which relies on the EU for nearly one-fifth of its workforce.
“What’s the point of investing in Switzerland, when in the end it’s not certain whether you can get qualified staff to carry out your plans,” Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss Employers Association said yesterday.
He said the vote created toxic uncertainty for Swiss businesses, which already face pressure amid a foreign crackdown on banking secrecy and an outcry over the favourable tax rates some Swiss cantons offers to multinationals.
Swiss banks including and Credit Suisse are especially dependent on the flow of foreign workers.
“We fear that the pool of available workers will dwindle,” said Sindy Schmiegel of the Swiss Banking Association. “It could become much more difficult for banks to meet their staffing needs.”
Although the Swiss government had urged voters to reject the introduction of EU immigration quotas, it is now obliged to write the results of the referendum into law.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said that the government planned to draft a law by the autumn, before approaching the EU with its plans.
Anger among parties that had opposed the vote was palpable yesterday, with the Swiss Liberal Democrats suggesting Christoph Blocher, the billionaire industrialist and SVP lawmaker who poured his own money into the quota campaign, be sent to Brussels himself to explain the vote.