Eurosceptic anti-immigrant movements across Europe received a boost on Sunday when Switzerland voted by the slimmest of margins to impose quotas on newcomers to the country, thrusting its relations with the EU into uncertainty. In a referendum mobilised by far-right populists demanding caps on immigration in a country where almost one in four of the population are immigrants, 50.4% of voters supported the measure, in a relatively high turnout of 56%. The vote split Switzerland east to west, with the francophone west voting against the quotas and the German-speaking east backing the clampdown.
The European commission said it regretted the outcome of the Swiss vote and would need to review the impact on overall relations between Switzerland and the EU. “This goes against the principle of free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland,” the commission said.
While Switzerland is not an EU member, it is closely integrated with the union and is a member of Europe’s passport-free Schengen regime. The vote to cap immigration throws this into question, undermining several bilateral agreements between Brussels and Berne, and challenging the Schengen system since the caps will also apply to EU citizens who previously enjoyed unfettered travel and working rights in Switzerland under the open borders system.