Switzerland says ‘We’re full’

By John Lloyd
February 10, 2014

Swiss voters have opted for stiff restrictions on immigrants entering the country — including those from European Union countries. In doing so, they’ve given joy to the burgeoning anti-immigrant, anti-EU parties, a blow to the politicians and officials in Brussels and a blaring warning to center parties on the continent and everywhere.

In Europe, the consensus on immigration has always been fragile — and now it’s being shredded to bits.

The vote was narrow — 50.3 percent of the electorate with a mere 19,000 votes. However, this is Switzerland, where the people’s voice is paramount. Over the next three years, the federal authorities must develop strict immigration curbs designed to sharply reduce the inflow of immigrants who now make up between 23 and 27 percent of the population of eight million, the second-highest proportion in Europe (after Luxembourg).

Those who voted for the restrictions — put on the ballot by the right-leaning Peoples Party —deny racism or xenophobia in interviews and point instead to downward pressure on wages and overcrowding. Supporters of business lamented the looming inability to hire the best workers and experts from across Europe for successful companies like Nestle, Hoffmann-La Roche, Schindler Elevator and dozens of watch companies.

Switzerland is weak in one sense: the federal government is small and run by politicians who are little-known outside the country. But in another sense it is strong. A referendum is the expression of the nation-state and an example of direct democracy more potent than anywhere else on earth.

The result is significant for Switzerland and big for its neighbors. EU nationals — even in recession-hit Italy and relatively booming Germany — have looked for good jobs in the Alpine paradise. But most significantly, the Swiss have insisted on exercising sovereignty over their territory in an affirmation of self-determination that the EU has long wished to suppress.

Nigel Farage, leader of UK’s Independence Party, hailed the vote as “wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe,” saying it was “not a matter of race but of space.”

The result underlines the increasingly evident fact that Europe is in a turbulent time and that this political turbulence is likely to be prolonged. The EU has long pressed for its member nations to pass over the control of financial, economic and political levers to Brussels, and has more recently insisted that financial controls be centralized to cope efficiently with the euro crisis. But the groundswell of opinion against a centralized government with obscure workings that is administered by mostly unknown politicians is now felt in all states, including those thought to be impervious to anti-EU sentiment.

The referendum was designed to address the most neuralgic issue in Europe — the free movement of people within its borders. Europe has seen large-scale emigration from relatively poor east-central Europe to richer western and northern countries, as well as more desperate emigration from impoverished and war-torn states in Africa and the Middle East, much of this illegal.

More than any other issue, immigration drives a widening wedge between the political, business and intellectual elite in Europe and those in middle and working-class jobs who experience downward wage pressure and often live in areas unused to the social changes that immigration brings.

This discomfort has long been blamed on racism. But now thoughtful liberals are recognizing that something else is happening that is not so much a crisis of ethnic differences, but a crisis of the nation state.

The French political philosopher Pierre Manent is a central figure in the resurgence of the country’s liberal tradition. In a series of recent essays, he locates current turbulence in the widening gap between a nation state that is supposed to be consigned to the past and a European state that is proposed as the future. The European political class, he says, has assumed the responsibility of constructing a united Europe, but, in doing so, it has sought to discredit all opposition as reactionary.

“If this process continues — the financial crisis of the euro has put extraordinary pressure on it — we will soon leave behind the regime of representative government and return to one of speechless commandment,” he writes. “The commandment will no longer be that of the state, which at least occupied a place of a certain elevation, but that of regulations. We do not know the source of regulations — only that we must obey them.”

From an even more liberal quarter, Michael Ignatieff — former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party and now a scholar at Harvard –  writes that “to a degree we haven’t realized, our sovereignty has been emptied out and because it has, our democracy has been draining away. Sovereignty and democracy are linked. We must feel we are masters in our own house, if our politics is to have any meaning for us. Democracy is not a procedure, an instrument or a technique. It is a way of living a set of values of patriotism, equality and fairness, and it creates a sentiment: the blessed feeling that you live in a place where you are not adrift, you are not a prisoner of fate, where you join with citizens to shape your world.”

Swiss voters have acted on Ignatieff’s dictum that “sovereignty and democracy are linked.” In doing so — and in insisting that their small country has too many foreigners — they have linked democracy and sovereignty to oppose the prevailing orthodoxy. The consequences of this will roil Europe for years to come.

PHOTO: Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (R) talks to Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga after a news conference in Bern February 9, 2014. REUTERS/THOMAS HODEL

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15 comments so far

this is way Scotland will become indipendent in September. NI and Wales will follow asap

Posted by phoen2011 | Report as abusive

This article by John Lloyd is one of the most insightful articles I’ve read in a long time.

In the USA, we have the same problem. Just like Switzerland, today in America, approximately 25% of the people living in America are immigrants. We have mass unemployment, and wages in every industry are going down, down, down. Like Switzerland, immigrants occupy housing in America on a large scale, causing rents and housing costs in America to skyrocket.

The American middle class is quickly being destroyed by mass immigration on an unprecedented scale. The H1B Visa program here has already destroyed much of the American engineering and tech-worker class by importing over a million engineers from India who will work for almost nothing.

I’ll quote from your article:
“This discomfort has long been blamed on racism. But now thoughtful liberals are recognizing that something else is happening that is not so much a crisis of ethnic differences, but a crisis of the nation state.”

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

The population of the world is exploding.

Every four and one-half days (4.5 days), the world population increases by 1 million people.

Where will they go?

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

John Lloyd,


I would not change a word of the opinions above posted by AdamSmith.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Um, having a small fed gov does not make you “weak.” It makes the people strong, at the expense of the government. A definite positive.

And really, it is about race/ethnicity. Peoples differ, have different ways of doing things, and often don’t mix well. To say the least. Liberals have to be forced, kicking and screaming, to accept this. Libertarians, too, who regard group identities as “collectivism.” Well, they are collective in nature, and they exist.

If you think “diversity,” which is a value-neutral concept, is inherently a good thing, then the Swiss should impress you. The three nationalities comprising Switzerland pretty much run their own affairs, and preserve their regional identities. Vive la différence, right?

Posted by f00 | Report as abusive

It ain’t racism, it’s nationalism, morphing into xenophobia!! That’s all right then.

Posted by Urban_Guerilla | Report as abusive

its hard to agree with people who see immigration as the cause of their misery. The fact is? western countries willingly invade and create mayhem in poorer countries to steal their resources which results in internal and international displacement of huge segments of people desperate to save their lives and earn lively hood, nobody would like to I’ve outside their traditional societies and homes, in truth western world is no bed of roses with everyone is caught in hard cold way of life where most western people sell their souls for a little comfort and a few dollars. So let the western world curb their greed and stop useless un-winable wars if they don’t want immigrants from the so called third world and I guarantee the floods of immigration will stop. lets see if you have the integrity to publish this comment.

Posted by skyhighblue | Report as abusive

“The H1B Visa program here has already destroyed much of the American engineering and tech-worker class by importing over a million engineers from India who will work for almost nothing.”


WTF! When did I wake up and realize I don’t live in MY country anymore but in a HOSTILE LAND more concerned with the profit of EVIL corporations?

Posted by Foxdrake_360 | Report as abusive

It isn’t just “evil corporations” that push for open borders, it’s evil ethnic interests that want to see majority white countries stop being that way.

“Xenophobia” is just a slur against the natural instinct of racial/ethnic self-preservation. It’s only bad when whites do it, apparently.

OTOH, xenophilia, the unquestioning embrace of the foreign and unassimilable, is what’s unnatural and pathological.

Posted by f00 | Report as abusive

Napoleon with his masses of Frenchmen invaded Russia in 1812, of course.

The Russian people, with all their might, resisted the Frenchmen, of course. Who wouldn’t?

But that means – according to the twisted logic of a poster to this thread – that the Russian citizens resisting the French invaders were XENOPHOBIC?

Napoleon’s army consisted of approximately 550,000 French people, and Russia’s population was 40 million. In other words, the French immigration was 1.3% of Russia’s population.

Yet today America has been invaded in much larger numbers. Today, 25% of the people living in the USA were not born here. Many of them are illegal.

It is an invasion, for purposes of gaining wealth, just as the French sought wealth in Russia.

Today the American middle class is being quickly destroyed by unprecedented mass immigration which is completely out of control.

I say congratulations to the Swiss people for standing up and defending themselves.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

One can’t just talk about immigration by itself. There are immigrants, and there are immigrants.

A Russian or Pole can adapt fairly well to living in, say, France, whereas a Nigerian, Afghan, or Thai is much less likely to assimilate successfully.

A neighborhood, state, or country is the sum of the people that comprise it. The more whites in an area, the more it will resemble a white country. The more non-whites in an area, the more that area will resemble their native countries. They don’t have to intend for that to happen; but it will happen as surely as if obeying a law of nature.

Immigration to the US consists largely of mestizos from Latin America. A step up for them, certainly, from the struggling and corrupt states they leave behind, but a steep step down for the whites they settle among.

Posted by f00 | Report as abusive

Western Europe is almost as densely populated as China. And Switzerland is 50% more densely populated than that. And the entire region is plagued by high unemployment. The reason eludes economists because of their self-imposed ban on giving any consideration to the ramifications of population growth. The inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption is at the heart of Europe’s woes.

Like all such densely populated societies, Europe is a land of apartment-dwellers who consume little beyond the basic necessities. They maintain a relatively high standard of living through manufacturing for export and by high levels of deficit spending. The emergence of China has muscled in on their export business and their debt levels have become unsustainable.

For Europe and the world as a whole, unemployment will worsen as labor forces continue to swell and as per capita consumption continues to decline as long as the population continues to grow. It is inescapable.

Pete Murphy
Author, “Five Short Blasts”

Posted by Pete_Murphy | Report as abusive

Overpopulation is the greatest threat to mankind, yet it has been pushed to the background for as long as I’ve been alive.
The drive for economic growth rather than the improvement in standard of living is ridiculously short sighted.
This stuff should be obvious to everyone, yet still some religions preach unfettered procreation.

Posted by RandomName2nd | Report as abusive

“We must feel we are masters in our own house, if our politics is to have any meaning for us. Democracy is not a procedure, an instrument or a technique. It is a way of living a set of values of patriotism, equality and fairness, and it creates a sentiment: the blessed feeling that you live in a place where you are not adrift, you are not a prisoner of fate, where you join with citizens to shape your world.”

Almost, but one can think of any number of instances where patriotism has conflicted with equality and fairness, both internally and externally, and whether democracy conflicts with them can depend on what we mean by “democracy,” and what a majority of the people feels like doing at any given time. Tweaking the EU to allow more local control might be better than returning to the 19th century.

Posted by DorjePismo | Report as abusive

In addition, China is ‘considering’ lifting the one-child policy, accelerating the global population explosion. No one addresses the fact that the world is evolving into more automation. Corporations do NOT want to hire people. If every company could operate with only a few people and return a profit, every single entity would. Not one politician addresses this unpleasant fact. Yet people continue to produce offspring…

Moreover, if there are not the jobs there once was, I applaud Switzerland for taking a stand on population controls within their boarders. There is plenty of open land in many countries. These low-level workers can go elsewhere to pillage a society of its goods, resources and entitlement resources without adding much back.

Posted by BarbieFunJet | Report as abusive
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