In a climate of anticipation ahead of federal elections coming up this weekend in Switzerland, euronews spoke to Anne-Frédérique Widmann, head of investigative services for Swiss French-language Television TSR.
Frédéric Bouchard, euronews:
Nuclear energy and immigration are the two big issues in this campaign. Why is that?”
With regard to nuclear, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. It’s clearly the Fukushima effect, which has completely turned Swiss public opinion around. Before the Fukushima accident, the Swiss were ready to discuss the possibility of building new nuclear power plants.
Following the accident, 87 percent of the Swiss people came out in favour of ending atomic power and just a few weeks later the government opted to leave nuclear energy.
Now, immigration is a different story. Our view of foreigners, our fear of foreigners, is the electoral stock in trade of the UDC, the largest political party in Switzerland, a right-wing party, and this year immigration has been one of the major concerns of the Swiss.
The finger is not being pointed at the third world asylum-seeker now; it’s more or less poor and underqualified people who are singled out: citizens of the European Union.
There are several reasons for that. Yes, the Swiss have benefited from agreements on free movement in recent years, but the Swiss today are beginning to feel negative effects. You can imagine that not a week goes by without the unions condemning cases of salary-dumping: cases where EU citizens are paid half or one third or even a quarter of what a Swiss person is paid for work — and this is totally illegal.
On top of that, the Swiss are starting to feel a demographic pressure. Each year 45,000 to 100,000 people from the EU settle in Switzerland, and this puts pressure on infrastructure which is already under maximum strain, whether it’s available housing, which is a rare commodity here, or land area.
You talk about the UDC, the Swiss People’s Party, whom more than 29% of voters say they support — close to the 2007 election score. Has the populist right reached its limit?
It’s true that the UDC is expecting a stagnant result, but it’s still a success. The UDC remains the main force in the country with 30% of votes, far ahead of the Socialists, who register 20% of voter intentions.
On the other hand, this year the UDC has not mounted a campaign, has not managed to create emotional events that attract voters and which also influence other parties’ programmes. For example, on nuclear power the UDC got it entirely wrong, since it is in favour of nuclear energy. Neither did it see the crisis of the strong franc coming.
That said, the UDC still has a strong card to play, and that is immigration, the position on foreigners. The UDC now wants to renegotiate the free movement accords, to dilute them and propose European immigration quotas by nationality. This proposal for the moment has the other parties — those who take care to stay on good terms with Europe — in an uproar. But it’s a good bet that this theme will continue to fuel debate in the coming months.