False Nostalgia in Switzerland

International New York Times, February 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

False Nostalgia in Switzerland


An anti-immigrant vote alarms Europe and hurts Swiss businesses.

Swiss voters have handed the populist right in Europe an alarming victory. On Sunday, Feb. 9, voters approved an anti-immigration referendum that effectively rejects one of the defining principles of modern Europe: the free movement of European citizens within the Continent. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but, in 2008, it accepted participation in the Schengen Agreement, a Pan- European accord that allows Europeans to move freely across borders.

Switzerland's business community had warned that the anti- immigration measure would harm the country's economy and threaten Swiss jobs. But its argument failed to dissuade enough people, with the measure supported by 50.3 percent of those voting. Leaders of the European Union, which must now review its relationship with Switzerland, condemned the vote, as did the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel. Their governments, and others in Europe, must now review existing bilateral agreements with Switzerland that allow citizens to live and work in each other's countries.

The right-wing People's Party was the driving force behind the measure, warning that an influx of foreigners is threatening to overwhelm Swiss identity. …

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