In Part One, I outlined the basic context of the controversial Swiss vote to curb immigration from the European Union. Though it never joined the EU, Switzerland managed to enjoy the benefits of its common market, which is the largest in the world. In practice, this was made possible by negotiating a host of bilateral agreements.
One such agreement concerns the free movement of workers. In exchange for countless economic perks, starting in 2008, the Swiss agreed to exempt EU citizens from immigration restrictions, thus attracting a sizable influx of EU nationals looking for Swiss chocolate, Swiss cheese, and Swiss salaries.
Fast-forward to 2014. Switzerland's economy is healthy, unemployment is low, but there's a general sense that today's population growth is not sustainable at its current level of 80,000 new entries a year.
This past Sunday, the Swiss voted on whether to reinstate immigration quotas from the EU. 50.3% of them voted yes.
While liberals and the business lobby were in favor of the status quo, the right joined forces with environmentalists to support the reinstatement of the quotas. The right imbued the campaign with xenophobic overtones, while environmentalists warned that unconstrained economic growth is not feasible in an alpine country smaller than South Carolina. Meanwhile, the business lobby counter-argued that the quotas would hurt the economy.
By Swiss law, the Government has to honor the people's decision. This means the Government is in a pickle, because the free movement of persons is a legally binding bilateral agreement with the EU.
What happens now? In principle, the EU could void all the bilateral agreements they negotiated with Switzerland. The EU is Switzerland's number one trading partner, and things could get ugly.
Though I'm the only (naturalized) Swiss citizen in our family (as you know, I carry a Swiss Pet Passport), I didn't get to vote because I'm a dog. This is unacceptable, because I pay a yearly dog tax. Few things upset me like taxation without representation.
My parents have been here long enough and will not be affected. If push comes to shove, I'm a citizen, so I can sponsor them.
Stay tuned. We have one more installment planned to focus on the vote in the Italian-speaking regions. In America, National Public Radio did a piss poor job of reporting this issue, so Steve Inskeep asked me to fill in the details.