Last Sunday, 50.3% of the Swiss population voted in favour of a cap on “mass immigration” in a country-wide referendum. The outcome of the referendum (or, as the media have labelled it, the “stop mass immigration” proposal) forces the country to abandon its treaty with the EU on the free movement of people, which has been in force since 2002. Apart from the impact this may have on the Swiss economy, it also risks other bilateral trade agreements Switzerland has signed with the EU, as the “guillotine clause” gives the EU the power to terminate all other bilateral treaties if one agreement is not applied. How do YOU think the EU should respond?
We had a comment sent in recently from Smills, asking simply:
How do you think the EU Member States will react to the Swiss referendum? Is Switzerland (which is not part of the EU) going to lose access to the Single Market? And will the referendum results encourage the UK and others to follow suit?
The free movement of people is a key pillar of the EU’s Single Market, which includes Switzerland and accounts for half of Swiss exports. But as EU Commissioner Viviane Reding put it, the EU is not Swiss cheese: “You cannot have a Single Market with holes in it”.
Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament (and the Social Democrats‘ candidate for the next President of the European Commission), said that Switzerland “can’t take the advantages of a free internal market and stay outside on other questions at the same time”. The Liberal Democrats, Centre-Right and the Greens have also said the free movement of people is “not negotiable”.
Meanwhile, the Eurosceptics across the EU have expressed strong support for Switzerland and the outcome of the referendum, including Nigel Farage’s UKIP party, the French Front National, Austria’s FPÖ and Italy’s Northern League. It’s unclear how sympathetic British Prime Minister David Cameron will be to the referendum results, having previously suggested the EU should “slow down” labour access between Member States.
We recently spoke to Edit Herczog, a Hungarian MEP with the Social Democrats, and asked her how she would respond to Smills’ question. She was clear that she didn’t think the EU would invoke the nuclear option and cut Switzerland’s access to the Single Market:
I don’t think the referendum in Switzerland will have any negative consequences for the Swiss or others. The EU is about peaceful negotiation and not black or white “in or out” thinking. There are a range of different relationships countries can have with the EU, so it should be about a colourful range of options, not black and white thinking.
How do YOU think the EU should respond? Should it accept Switzerland’s decision to limit the free movement of persons without further implications? Or should the EU reconsider its other bilateral agreements with Switzerland? And will the outcome of the referendum galvanize EU member states into holding similar referendums on the free movement of people?