Celebrations were loud and long in the Swiss eurosceptic camp after voters narrowly backed their proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas.
In a referendum mobilised by far-right populists demanding caps on immigration in a country where one in four of the population are immigrants, 50.4% of voters supported the measure, in a relatively high turnout of 56%.
But the referendum, criticised by the government on political and business grounds, has split the country east to west and may have irreparably undermined its relationship with the European Union.
Toni Brunner, president of the eurosceptic UDC, was delighted by the result:
“This is a big surprise and it’s given parliament something to think about. The people don’t think that the government is able to solve this problem (immigration) and therefore we now have a clear message – from now on the Swiss want to regulate immigration on their own.”
European Parliament President Martin Schultz has been highly critical of the move, saying:
“The people who won the referendum did not argue with rational arguments but appealed to the lowest instincts. We should stay level-headed. But one thing is clear: you can’t take the advantages of a free internal market and stay outside on other questions at the same time. This is what we have to discuss with the Swiss government now.”
The vote has raised several questions.
If all bilateral agreements are to be looked at in a different light, will that include Switzerland’s participation in the passport-free Schengen regime?
And will Europe’s other anti-immigration parties be galvanised by the result?