ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s government said on Tuesday that a result in favor of severely limiting immigration in a Nov. 30 referendum would imperil ongoing negotiations with the European Union after a similar anti-immigration vote in February damaged ties.
Free movement of people is one of the fundamental policies of the EU, and Switzerland, while not a member of the 28-nation bloc, has to uphold that principle in order to benefit from favourable trade conditions.
Switzerland will vote in November on the Ecopop initiative, “Stop overpopulation - safeguard our natural resources”, which proposes capping the number of immigrants at just 0.2 percent of the resident population or the equivalent of 16,000 people per year.
Ecopop will be the second anti-immigration referendum in Switzerland in just nine months, on the heels of a right-wing initiative to introduce quotas on EU citizens that was narrowly backed by voters in February.
The Swiss government is working out how to implement the February vote while still safeguarding its accords with the EU. Draft legislation in June to reintroduce quotas on EU citizens from 2017 was dismissed by the bloc.
“A ‘yes’ to the Ecopop initiative would greatly impede ongoing implementation work and a solution with the EU,” the government said in a statement.
The initiative, which garnered the 100,000 signatures required to force a national vote in Switzerland, would reduce annual net immigration by more than 75 percent if accepted, the government said.
The Ecopop campaign says a lack of living space exerts too much pressure on the land and natural resources in landlocked Switzerland, tapping into a growing concern about overcrowding among its residents, who are frustrated by rising rents and crowded public transport.
The Swiss government argued the initiative is not the right way to achieve the country’s environmental goals, and said it would damage the economy, an argument that did not stop voters from backing the February vote for immigration curbs.
Left-wing groups including 35 political parties, trade unions and migrant groups are fighting against Ecopop, and on Tuesday Switzerland’s hospitality industry, which draws 44 percent of labor from outside Switzerland, also urged voters to reject it.
Even if Switzerland rallied its full domestic labor force, it would still not satisfy the country’s needs during good economic times, the government said.
“Our aging society needs people who want to come here and work. The upper limit that the initiative proposes for immigration is not only very low, it is very inflexible,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told journalists in Berne.
“The government and parliament are very clear on this: the consequences for our country would be very damaging.”
Reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Katharina Bart; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky