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EU immigration a Swiss election issue

EU immigration a Swiss election issue
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The Swiss go to the polls this weekend for federal elections. More than one third of them say they will base their vote on immigration policy. Traditionally welcoming Switzerland has come back to this time and again recently, while the right-wing UDC climbed the political ladder.

The objections of the Swiss to immigration have diversified. Many do not only dislike seeing people arrive from countries in difficulty but also those from rich European countries.

Bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union and non-EU countries, on freedom to cross borders, were extended in May to include people from eight of the new EU member states. This means that 25 EU countries no longer fall under permit quotas or Swiss labour recruitment rules.

Switzerland’s population is now more than a fifth non-Swiss, with the influx of immigration partly attributed to Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. The new foreigners reaching Switzerland each year number some 80,000. The Italians, Germans, Portuguese and French are the most numerous.

Their qualifications have changed also: newcomers with university degrees accounted for around 20% 15 years ago, and now they account for more than 50%. This has pushed up rents and added to the burden on infrastructures.

This was ammunition for the UDC party, even though the financial crisis has not hit the Swiss like it has hit others. Immigration is the UDC’s war horse. It was behind holding a referendum last year, where a majority voted in favour of deporting foreigners who were found guilty of legal infractions. The party this year is calling for restrictions on immigration.

UDC Vice-President Yvan Perrin said: “We are not obliged to revert to the bad old ways. We can easily imagine a flexible residency permit. The US, Australia and Canada take in a lot of immigrants, do not lack manpower and use similar systems.”

Foreign manpower in Switzerland plays a significant part in supporting its economy. But even so, public opinion is hardening towards newcomers, and the UDC’s calls are finding enthusiastic listeners.

These voters do not like the idea that Switzerland’s foreign population is climbing steadily, and out of a total of ten million is projected to have three million non-Swiss in the near future.