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.