The initiative is backed by the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP).
The SVP and its political ally the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) warn that Switzerland will soon have a population of 10 million (up from 8.5 million currently) if the treaty isn’t scrapped.
An image illustrating the dangers of unlimited immigration from a recent 'free newspaper' distributed by the SVP to home around Switzerland.
The SVP warns of overcrowding, spiralling welfare and healthcare costs, and reduced job prospects for Swiss-based workers in the face of competition from foreign workers.
The initiative is slated to go before Swiss voters next year.
It is the latest in a line of similar initiatives by the SVP. In 2014, Swiss voters backed a plan that would have seen immigration quotas for people from the EU. But the Swiss parliament passed only a watered down version of the proposal, angering the SVP and its base.
Initiative would threaten relations with EU
Opponents of the initiative argue any move to scrap freedom of movement between Switzerland would seriously threaten the already tense relations between Brussels and Bern and jeopardize the Alpine country's privileged access to the all-important EU domestic market.
In addition, under the so-called ‘guillotine clause’, the scrapping of any one treaty between Switzerland and the EU would spell the end of all other treaties.
The initiative would lead to a "Swiss Brexit" in express time said Socialist MP Roger Nordmann during Monday's debate.
In this context, the SVP’s immigration initiative has no support from other Swiss political parties.
But that didn’t stop around 40 SVP MPs signing up to speak during Monday’s debate. As Swiss media reports noted, even without any possibility of drumming up support from other parties, the discussion still gave the party the opportunity to get its key messages out to voters before federal elections next month.
The SVP are the largest party in the Swiss parliament. While their support appears to have dropped slightly since 2015, polling suggests they will maintain this position.
Six hours has been allocated to yesterday’s debate but the was not enough. With around 80 of the country’s 200 MPs set to speak on the issue, parliamentarians will be taking up the topic again next week.
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