Swiss to vote on ending free-movement deal with EU

While Switzerland decided long ago not to join the EU, it does want access to Europe's free-trade area, and it wants to co-operate with Brussels in areas like transport, the environment, and research and education. However, the thorny issue of immigration has led to a rethink. On Sunday Swiss voters will decide whether to abandon their free movement of people agreement with the EU.

Supporters say the move will allow Switzerland to control its borders and select only the immigrants it wants.

Opponents argue it will plunge a healthy economy into recession, and deprive hundreds of thousands of Swiss citizens of their freedom to live and work across Europe.

The justice minister Karin Keller-Sutter says that would create a situation "worse than Brexit", the BBC reports

The EU has consistently told the Swiss there will be no cherry-picking: leaving free movement would mean leaving those lucrative trade arrangements too.

The proposal comes from the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), and is a successor to a referendum held in 2014 (also from the People's Party) to introduce quotas on immigrants from the EU.

That passed by a whisker (50.33% said yes, 49.67% said no), obliging the Swiss government to find a deal Brussels would accept. In the end a compromise was agreed: Swiss employers had to prioritise workers permanently resident in Switzerland, in job sectors where unemployment is already high.

The SVP dismissed the deal as so weak as to be virtually meaningless, and are now back with a second demand to get out of free movement altogether.

Thomas Aeschi of the SVP believes abandoning free movement will bring all sorts of advantages, from "being able to select the highest qualified immigrants" to "less land speculation, lower house prices, and lower rents".

"[Trade deals] are not as important as they are portrayed in the media", Source: Thomas Aeschi, Source description: Swiss People's Party, Image: Thomas Aeschi, SVP

He does not fear the loss of trade deals, arguing the only likely effect is "the Swiss will eat less French cheese and the French will eat less Swiss cheese".

Although Switzerland does trade outside Europe (it has negotiated its own bespoke deal with China), the EU is by far its biggest partner, and Switzerland's trade with Germany alone is more than its trade with China and the USA combined.

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