Swiss shrink from radical limits on immigration in November vote

Tue Nov 4, 2014 8:23am EST
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By Joshua Franklin and Alice Baghdjian

HORRENBACH-BUCHEN Switzerland (Reuters) - When 54-year-old Swiss politician Samuel Graber goes shopping, the sight of German rollmops and Polish sausage snatching shelf-space from more traditional fare like Emmental cheese is for him another sign that foreigners are overrunning the Alpine country.

Anti-immigration campaigning in countries such as Britain tends to focus on southern Europe or Africa. In Switzerland, however, activists also argue settlers from northern European states such as Germany, typically working in IT, finance and healthcare, help drive up house prices and erode Swiss culture.

"These people come to live here with us, and straight away, up pops a shop selling these things," said Graber, who is a member of the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and makes homemade cheese with milk from his herd of pedigree Swiss cows.

It was in his home of Horrenbach-Buchen, a rural community of 260 near Emmental, that an SVP-led referendum in February to reintroduce quotas on European Union immigrants found its strongest following, winning almost 94 percent of vote. Only eight people voted against the proposal, which passed nationwide by a narrow margin.

But even in the heartland of the SVP, which makes opposition to immigration a cornerstone of policy, residents of Horrenbach-Buchen are shrinking from new proposals to impose even more radical limits on immigration, worried they go too far and might scupper the first initiative.

Switzerland will vote on Nov. 30 on an initiative from the group Ecopop proposing an even tighter cap on the number of immigrants. The group says it is motivated by concerns about a lack of living space exerting too much pressure on the land and natural resources, rather than by opposition to foreigners.

It proposes limiting immigration to just 0.2 percent of the resident population, equivalent to 16,000 people per year. This would represent a cut of more than 75 percent in annual net immigration from current levels.

"There'll definitely be some years when 16,000 is too few people," said Reto Haldimann, an SVP representative who voted in favor of curbs in February but does not plan to vote yes again.   Continued...

Roped up climbers leave the summit of Breithorn at 4,164 metres (13,661 feet) on the ridge marking the border with Switzerland (left) and Italy in the Alpine resort of Zermatt August 4, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse