Sunday, 9 February 2014

Switzerland votes to end open borders with the EU

Switzerland has narrowly voted to end its free movement agreement with the EU and restrict immigration from EU countries after 50.3% of participants voted to take control of their borders back from the EU in a national referendum.

Since 2007, EU citizens have been allowed to live and work in Switzerland with equal access to jobs and vice versa. About 80,000 people per year have moved to Switzerland from EU countries in the last 6 years which represents around 6% of Switzerland's population. The total permanent immigrant population in Switzerland is about 23% and 82% of Switzerland's population growth is a result of immigration. Two Swiss cantons have a majority immigrant population: in Geneva, the "native" Swiss make up just 37.8% of the population and 48.9% in Basel-Stadt. Switzerland has the highest percentage immigrant population in the world.

Unemployment in Switzerland is fairly low at about 3.4% of the workforce and much lower than its 1997 peak of around 5.4% but it has been volatile over the last few years and understandably there is concern amongst Swiss citizens that jobs are going to EU immigrants when there are people in Switzerland without a job.

The pro-EU lobby tells us that if we swapped EU membership for a free trade agreement like Norway or Switzerland then we would be subjected to "fax democracy" where we are forced to adopt EU rules without any say on making them. EFTA countries are involved in the decision making process so it's factually incorrect anyway but this decision shows that far from having no say on the rules that apply to our country, we would have absolute control over them. The EU says that Switzerland must have open borders with the EU but the Swiss people say they don't so they won't.

UKIP has a policy of introducing Swiss-style referenda that would give us the same ability to pick and choose which EU rules we want to comply with. The Swiss rely on the EU for over half their exports which puts them in a much weaker position than the UK because even the fiddled EU export figures show that we export less to the EU than we do to the rest of the world and that percentage is decreasing year on year. If the Swiss have the courage to rattle sabres with the EU from a relatively weak position then why shouldn't we from a strong one?