Switzerland Votes to Reintroduce Limits on Immigration

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by Raheem Kassam 9 Feb 2014

With almost all votes counted, it looks like Switzerland--which never joined the European Union (EU)--is set to reintroduce measures that would significantly reduce the free movement of people across its borders with the EU.

While the political and media establishments have argued that Switzerland's freedom of movement agreements with the European Union are crucial to the country's trade and employment figures, the Swiss people appear to have narrowly rejected the premise.

Around 51 percent are said to have voted in favour of measures which would see an effective end to the treaties that Switzerland and the European Union currently abide by, which allows any European Union citizen to move to the non-EU country.

The new rules would impose an absolute limit on the number allowed to settle in Switzerland, a move which some have argued would be detrimental to business interests in the country.

Hans Hess, the head of a Swiss electrical company said, "Innovation is the driver of the Swiss economy. That's why we need highly qualified workers inside Switzerland and from abroad.

But Independent politician Thomas Minder said, "I don't want to live like a sardine in a tin can." Minder supports the initiative, while Georg Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne Georg, told Reuters: "Many people feel this is challenging their identity, even if there isn't any concrete economic impact on a personal level."

Last year, 80,000 people moved to Switzerland from the European Union. The country has a foreign population of over 23 percent, and its unemployment rate is just 3.2 percent, compared with an EU average of 10.9 percent.

Turnout is reported to be 56.5 percent.