Will Switzerland vote to end EU migration?

Will Switzerland vote to end EU migration?
On Saturday, Switzerland decide whether or not to restrict migration from EU countries. We asked three Swiss experts whether the vote will be successful.

On September 27th, Swiss voters will go to the polls to vote on five separate questions. 

READ: What's at stake in Switzerland's five referendums on Sunday? 

The most controversial question is the right-wing Swiss People's Party initiative (SVP) which hopes to implement a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative' will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland, although the exact specifics of the limitation remain unclear and will come as a result of negotiations with the EU should the referendum pass. 

READ: What will happen if Switzerland votes to limit EU immigration? 

What do the polls say? 

Despite early indications that the vote was likely to pass – especially during the heights of the pandemic – current polling suggests that it will be defeated

READ: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

The support for the plan has failed to go beyond the SVP's base in the Swiss populace. 

Around two thirds (65 percent) reject the proposal, while 33 percent are in favour. Support for the vote is strongest in Ticino, where 45 percent of voters are in favour.

What do the experts say? 

The Local Switzerland interviewed three experts to discuss the vote. 

On the likelihood of it passing, each was in agreement that it was unlikely – but not impossible – that the vote would pass. 

Michael Siegenthaler, a Labour market specialist at KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich, said few parallels could be drawn with the SVP’s previous effort to restrict migration in 2014. 

“I think the last polls on the vote were relatively clear, and in that sense relatively comforting for most people that it won’t pass,” Siegenthaler told The Local. 

“It’s a bit different to the vote in 2014. The polls were for the acceptance of the referendum before. 

“Here, the polls seem to suggest it’s pretty clear. I’m pretty sure that there was kind of a relief (for many in government) when the first polls came out.”

Unlike the SVP, the remaining Swiss mainstream political parties – along with the government itself – is opposed to the referendum. 

‘Not even the SVP think it will pass’

Sean Müller, an Assistant Professor at the University of Lausanne who specialises in Swiss and comparative federalism, territorial politics and direct democracy, said that the vote was unlikely to pass. 

“I don’t think it will pass for several reasons. I think they will have something like 40-45% approving (the vote),” Müller told The Local. 

“One reason is that the SVP has 25% to 28% of the vote normally, getting to 45% is still a success in reaching beyond their core electorate – but they won’t have a majority.”

Martina Mousson, from political research agency GFS Bern, agrees. 

“The polls show there is not a lot of support for the initiative outside the SVP’s (core demographic). People who have strong feelings for the party, they have strong feelings for the initiative,” Mousson told The Local. 

“But we are pretty sure it is going to be a no. We dont see any pressure on the initiative at the moment, unlike in 2014.”

Müller that even the SVP were likely to be sceptical of its chances. 

“I don’t think the SVP really believe the referendum will pass. The real success they had was in 2014 when they launched an initiative against mass immigration and it passed. Everyone predicted a ‘no’ and yet it passed – so it was a surprise for observers, but it was also a surprise for the SVP.”

Why will the vote fail?

Müller told The Local that the specificity of the vote was likely to be its downfall. 

“One of the reasons it passed in 2014 was because it was very vague. It said we should introduce quotas on migration, but it didn’t say how high the quota could be. So (voters) could signal that they were unhappy with the government while not doing anything concrete.”

“But by being so specific now, they have cut out the protest vote. The SVP will lose a lot of votes because they are so precise.”

Another vote looms likely even if the referendum is defeated

Michael Siegenthaler, a Labour market specialist at KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich told The Local that even if the vote failed, it was unlikely to be the end of the issue from the point of view of the SVP. 

“It’s not unlikely that something similar would happen again,” he said. 

READ: What’s at stake on September 27th?

“I mean it's speculation but probably yes. If you really look at it, it states in our constitution that we (are to) regulate immigration by ourselves. 

“The referendum that was accepted in 2014 said that we have to regulate immigration independently of the EU. Everyone is aware of that, obviously, that we didn’t fully implement the 2014 initiative.”

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