By Paolo von Schirach
February 10, 2014
WASHINGTON – In a referendum, a majority of Swiss voters (although with a very narrow margin) indicated that they want restrictions on immigration. This change would affect mostly immigration from the European Union. This vote may cause serious problems for the Swiss government, since the free movement of people across boundaries is an integral component of agreements Switzerland signed with the EU. Restricting immigration unilaterally may not be possible without reopening negotiation on the entire package of complex agreements.
Anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe
Be that as it may, the Swiss vote has been quickly noted by all conservative, right-wing political forces across Europe as an indication of a new trend favoring real restrictions on immigration. True or false, the anti-EU parties now gaining momentum in France, the Netherlands, the UK and elsewhere claim that immigrants are usually citizens of poorer countries who want to come to rich countries in order to take advantage of developed social services and other welfare advantages. In other words, immigrants are leeches who come to “take” rather than to “contribute”. Now, by a small margin, the (neutral, non EU) Swiss indicate that they agree with this contention.
Poorer neighbors not wanted
Hard to say how all this will end up. The anti-immigrant parties may not be strong enough to force major policy changes within Europe. But their emergence is a sign of very lukewarm (if not altogether hostile) feelings towards Europe.
The grand idea of a borderless Europe where all people feel citizens of an entity larger than their own country of origin is just a fantasy. The “European Idea” is indeed just an idea, embraced by some elites; but with no popular appeal. Most Europeans are preoccupied with getting by in low or zero growth economies. The notion that their financially strapped countries have an open door for their poorer neighbors is not that popular.