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What’s behind the anti-immigrant vote in Switzerland?

Swiss immigrationTranslated by Tom Gill from the original in l’Humanité

Since the Swiss / EU agreement on the free movement of people, a sense of unease has been growing in Switzerland, fuelled by the crisis and exacerbated by the demagoguery of the extreme nationalist right.

The success of the anti-immigration initiative of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, led by billionaire Christoph Blocher, represents a political and diplomatic earthquake in Switzerland. It is mainly a failure of representative bodies of the country : all other political forces avoided this issue, which appears to be a back door way of rejecting bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union ( EU). The fear is that it opens a period of uncertainty, politically and economically, damaging the country. The initiative of populist nationalist Swiss People’s Party doesn’t come out of nowhere, however.

Since 2002 and the entry into force of the free movement deal, a feeling of unease has been growing in population, especially in its border cantons ( such as in Ticino and Geneva where more than one hundred thousand work near the border). The crisis of 2008 helped advance nationalist political forces in these regions, allowing them to enter parliament and the cantonal governments (the Lega in Ticino, the Citizens’ Movement in Geneva … ) .

As for the Swiss People’s party – now a master in the use of direct democracy – it was helped by the culpable inertia of the government and Parliament: they “forgot” accompanying measures – to avoid a downward spiral in wages and other social aspects – that they promise workers in 2002 as a necessary complement to the free movement of labour. At the same time, nearly 70,000 non-Swiss Europeans, above all from Germany and Italy, settled in Switzerland every year. There was certainly a need for foreign labour while the economy was growing (1 % annual growth with unemployment at 3%). But with purchasing power falling for a number of years, and the shortage and high cost of housing, overwhelmed public transport, etc. . people were affected in their daily lives.

If you add a sense of loss of sovereignty and a scapegoat – the immigrant – courtesy of the Swiss People’s party, this can lead to a situation where, according to a political observer, a “country shoots itself in the foot ” …

This post first appeared in translation at Revolting Europe


  1. Jim Denham says:

    Just for a moment I’d hoped this might give the anti-European “left” (‘No2EU’, CAEF, the Morning Star, etc) an opportunity to consider the utter stupidity of their reactionary little fanatasy of a “progressive” withdrawal from the EU. But no: these people are just too stupid and/or arrogant to admit they’ve been utterly wrong since at least 1975.

  2. Gerry says:

    Jim – the anti European left has been telling the truth since 1975!

    The EU is not “progressive” in any way, shape or is a reactionary, imperialist, austerity-imposing, neo-Thatcherite club, with a few social democratic trimmings on top.

    I say good for the Swiss and their referendums: the “free movements” of people and capital has been an unalloyed, unmitigated disaster for working class people in the UK…and a popular and populist Left should should that loud and clear.

  3. terry sullivan says:

    Jim is wrong

    There has been no anti immigrant voter just a reassertion that Switzerland is sovereign

  4. terry sullivan says:

    It was free movement of labor not people for benefits

  5. Jim Denham says:

    And so, how would a GB withdrawal from the EU help workers’ rights, civil liberties, internationalism… please inform us, you anti EU “leftists”.

    A good comrade once described the anti-Euopean “left” as like a little boy who sees a big march going by, led by a brass band: he wants to join the march and the band, so he grabs his tin whistle and rushes to the front of the band. The little boy is playing the Red Flag on his tin whistle…but the big brass band is playing Rule Britannia.

    When will the idiots of the anti-EU “left” ever learn?

    1. terry sullivan says:

      i am anti-eu right not left

      1. Jim Denham says:

        Ah! That explains a lot. But at least you’re consistent.

        1. terry sullivan says:

          thank you–i am not anti-eu because of immigration–our main problem in that respect comes from africa and asia.

          i want out of eu because it is anti-democratic and increasingly authoritarian

  6. Rod says:

    Jim Denham: “When will the idiots of the anti-EU “left” ever learn?”

    It’s the pro-EU left who need to start learning.

    You may think Blair’s Iraq disaster was difficult to prevent but just wait until the EU is fully militarised with each nation fully integrated into the European Defence Agency.

    Not at all surprising to find the ‘humanitarian’ war lobby are so keen on the EU.

  7. Gerry says:

    Oh Jim – calling socialists like us “idiots” does not make your case any stronger, I’m afraid

    Leaving the EU returns sovereignty to the British people, it is that simple, and we will be free to chart our own economic policies, our own social policies, our own defence policy, our own immigration policy…and socialists can make the case for real change, as we did in 1945 and 1964.

    People like you are defeatists who have accepted the disgusting Thatcherite/EU consensus.

  8. Jim Denham says:

    Gerry, Rod: keep tooting on your tin whistles. A British withdrawal from Europe “progressive”? Not a boost to racists, anti-worker forces, benefits-cutters, those who want the repeal of human rights legislation, etc, etc, etgc. Dream on, comrades and keep tooting those whistles. I only hope Farage is suitably grateful.

  9. Rod says:

    Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Your Labour chap, John Healey, former shadow Sec of State for Health, who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Group for EU-US Trade has made absolutely no effort to push for the exemption of the NHS from the EU/US Free Trade Agreement (TTIP).

    This means that the NHS will be irreversibly wide open to the private sector.

    Are you happy with this?

  10. Jim Denham says:

    Rod: first of all clarify what you mean by “your Labour chap, john Healy..”

    I’ve no idea who is is, why you should think he’s my “chap”, or, indeed, what the eff you’re now on about.

    Or you could try answering my questions, as set out in my previous comment (A British withdrawal from Europe “progressive”? Not a boost to racists, anti-worker forces, benefits-cutters, those who want the repeal of human rights legislation, etc, etc, et): too much to ask?

  11. Rod says:

    Sorry mate, I’d assumed that you were a supporter of the Labour Party. Therefore the useless John Healey would be ‘your chap’.

    Sorry for the mistaken assumption.

    You only have to look at Greece to see how well benefit-cutters, ‘anti-worker forces’ and racists are doing within the EU. The campaign for an alternative to such developments must be continued in or out of the EU.

    On the EU/US Free Trade Agreement:

  12. Jim Denham says:

    Rod: with the best will in the world: you haven’t answered my questions. And, it’s obviously because you can’t…without admitting that the “left” anti-EU stance is totally incoherent, bankrupt, and reactionary.

  13. Rod says:


    I have never claimed withdrawal from the EU would be ‘progressive’. I don’t know what you mean by ‘progressive’. You’re the one who introduced the concept ‘progressive’ into this exchange. Don’t hang your concept on me.

    And I don’t consider myself to be part of the Left – as I am not a supporter of the Labour Party nor any of the Marxist sects.

    My concern, as I have suggested above, is with the development of an unaccountable, militarised EU foreign policy and with the release of undemocratic, unaccountable corporate power.

  14. Jim Denham says:

    Sorry Rod: my assumption that you consider yourself on the left was caused by the name of this blog.

    But do you seriously think that the UK outside the EU would have an “accountable” military, foreign policy … and democratic “corporate power”?

    Dream on.

  15. Rod says:

    I think, outside the EU, the developments that concern me would be less institutionally entrenched.

    Example: The EU Defence Agency requires participation from only a minimum of two member states before an intervention can become ‘viable’.

    Therefore, if the unelected Baroness Ashton, perhaps yielding to pressure from elsewhere, opted to call for intervention in, say, a resource rich African state and there was an influential anti-war movement in the UK, Germany and France there would still be 25 other states from which an EU military force could be drawn.

    UK personnel may not be directly involved but the UK will be involved, indirectly through financial contributions to the EU and via the integration of military resources.

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