- Title: SWISS-VOTE/IMMIGRATION Businesses, government uneasy at Swiss immigration vote
- Date: 28th November 2014
- Summary: GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (NOVEMBER 27, 2014) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PEOPLE IN STREET LAKE GENEVA
- Embargoed: 13th December 2014 12:00
- Location: Switzerland
- Country: Switzerland
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA6FNJGQQPRONLN9VPDBDPQYIDG
- Story Text: The Swiss government and business leaders have teamed up with green parties and unions to condemn an anti-immigration initiative to be put to a public vote on Sunday (November 30).
The initiative known as "Ecopop" would drastically cut the numbers coming to Switzerland every year and has been dubbed xenophobic by opponents who insist it would have a detrimental effect on the country's economy.
The government is currently engaged in complicated re-negotiations of bilateral arrangements with the European Union after a previous vote against mass immigration held in February, which it said would be jeopardised by a new ballot.
"If the Ecopop initiative was adopted now, while we are looking for solutions with the European Union, I can tell you that we would have to immediately stop all these efforts, and that the bilateral approach, in light of this initiative, wouldn't be possible anymore," Swiss federal councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, responsible for justice and policing, said.
The initiative, named after the association behind it some of whose members hail from the Swiss far-right, aims to preserve Swiss natural resources and the environment by controlling population growth.
It wants to limit expansion to 0.2 percent of the resident population a year for three years, allowing 16,000 people a year, down from nearly 80,000 at the moment. It also seeks to link Swiss foreign aid to developing countries with the introduction of measures regarding birth control.
It is not supported by any mainstream parties but local branches, including of the right-wing Democratic Union of the Centre, have called on voters to back it.
Concerns voiced by politicians are widely shared by the business community with both small enterprises and multinational companies expressing doubts.
Major global players in pharmaceuticals including Novartis and Roche have headquarters in the city of Basel, close to the French and German borders, and last month Roche's CEO spoke out against Ecopop in a Swiss newspaper.
According to the Basel land district's Chamber of Commerce Director, Christoph Buser, 55,000 people cross these borders every day to work in Switzerland, which earns two in every three francs thanks to exports.
For Buser, its adoption would be a catastrophe, made worse by the fact that the repercussions of the previous vote on immigration are still being felt, particularly in the country's reputation overseas.
"I had a talk to one of the managers of a big pharma here in Basel, the other day, and he said he is looking for new people in the research department, and when they spoke about having come to work in Basel, in Switzerland, the question was "Is it still possible?", because we hear about changes in legislation, and once this takes place, then it's not long before companies will consider if Switzerland is actually the right place for them to be," Buser told Reuters TV on Wednesday.
In the long-term he fears the initiative could affect employment and taxes, but remains optimistic about the result.
"I do hope that we have at least a 60% "No" vote on this and then the image can be partly corrected, but on the other hand it's in people's head that the Swiss are talking about reducing their immigration and this is not a very good sign for a growing economy, a worldwide competitive growing economy," he said.
His optimism could be dampened on Sunday, with polls indicating the number of people backing the initiative is on the rise. The percentage saying they would vote in favour climbed from 35 percent at the end of October to 39 percent by mid-November, according to polls done by Swiss national TV and radio (SSR).
Secretary-General of the Ecopop association, which boasts 1,400 members, Andreas Thommen, hopes people will vote in favour of the measure which he says will protect Swiss biodiversity.
Even in his small village of 600 people, 45 kilometres outside of Basel, he says he feels that the country is overcrowded and the local roads congested - with 50,000 people a day using the local motorway.
"Since Ecopop was founded 42 years ago, the Swiss population nearly doubled from 5 to 8.5 million inhabitants and we have now nearly 500 people per square kilometre which is one of the highest rates of the world. We have a lot of traffic here and, in the end, Switzerland dies as a victim, is a victim of its own economical success," he said.
He bats aside accusations of racism and xenophobia, saying foreigners are welcome and are not the problem, the issue being their number and the fact that there is no clear limit. He wants to force the government to enshrine such a limit in the law, even if the price to pay is current bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU.
In Switzerland's democracy, an initiative can be submitted to a popular vote if it gathers more than 100,000 signatures. If adopted, it has to become law.
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