Switzerland has moved a step closer to breaking free of the European Union (EU) after the government allowed proponents of a campaign to curb immigration to start canvassing public support for a referendum.
The country is not a member of the EU but currently has open borders with the bloc as a price for access to the Single Market. However, the populist Swiss Freedom Party (SVP) have been pushing for a referendum on the matter.
The SVP is now free to start collecting signatures for its “for a moderate immigration” initiative, and if they gain more than 100,000 signatures, a referendum will be held, 20 Minutes reports.
If the people then vote for the change, Switzerland’s Federal Council will have a year to negotiate the end of free movement with Brussels, changing or scrapping bilateral agreements with the bloc.
The EU is unlikely to compromise and Switzerland will be forced to cut many of its ties with the Single Market if it wants to respect the outcome of the referendum.
Switzerland Rejects Citizenship Bids of Residents Who Have Been on Welfare https://t.co/g0fVBoRvx0
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The population of Switzerland is around 8.3 million, with around one in four being of foreign origin, and the SVP has long aimed to bring net-immigration down to zero.
According to le News, Switzerland’s population surged by 16 per cent from 7.2 million in just 16 years since 2000. The majority of this growth came from the expanding foreign population, which boomed from 1.4 to 2.0 million.
The largest number of the new arrivals came from EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations. There were 875,000 Europeans in Switzerland in 2000. By 2016, there were 1,362,000 – a 56 per cent increase.
Swiss voters approved quotas on immigration back in 2014. However, politicians watered down the proposal in 2016 by offering to give people registered as unemployed in Switzerland first access to jobs to avert a clash with Brussels.
Switzerland is also set to have a referendum on banning the Islamic face veil and a ban on Islamic minarets was voted for in a referendum in 2009, approved by nearly 58 per cent of the population.