Swiss voters have rejected a right-wing proposal to end the free movement of workers between Switzerland and EU countries.
The proposal was made by the right-wing People’s Party (SVP), which had argued that the current liberal arrangement has attracted 75,000 EU citizens per year on average, leading to overpopulation, rising housing costs and a burdened welfare system.
However, voters rejected the proposal on Sunday with a majority of 61.7 per cent, according to final results, echoing polls ahead of the vote.
Nearly two-thirds of voters felt that scrapping the Swiss-EU deal on free movement would exacerbate the shortage of skilled workers and would endanger Switzerland’s wealth, according to a recent survey by the Gfs.Bern polling institute.
The rejection of the SVP plan could provide a fresh boost for talks between the European Union and Switzerland on a framework agreement to regulate this and other difficult bilateral issues.
The EU wants to unify all bilateral deals with Switzerland in one agreement, weakening some of the privileges Switzerland had negotiated earlier. Switzerland has demanded a rebate of Brussels’ proposal.
Switzerland is not a member of the bloc and conservatives fear that a deal would gradually subject the country to EU legislation.
The outcome was swiftly welcomed by EU leaders. “We want to further consolidate and deepen our relations,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, echoing similar remarks from EU Council President Charles Michel.
Several other issues were being put to vote on Sunday, including introducing two weeks’ paternity leave, the acquisition of fighter jets and easing restrictions on shooting wolves.
The paternity leave was adopted with 60 per cent of the vote. Fathers are to received 80 per cent of their salary during the newly adopted leave.
The outcomes regarding the fighter jets and the shooting of wolves were still narrow several hours after the polls closed.
Parliament wants to make the shooting of wolves, who kill between 300 and 500 sheep and goats each year, easier. There are estimated to be 80 to 100 wild wolves in Switzerland after they were once extinct.
The issue of the fighter jets was rejected once in 2014 already. About 30 Swiss army fighter jets have to be replaced by 2030, with the companies Airbus, Dessault, Boeing and Lockheed Martin competing for a contract.
Around 5.3 million people were eligible to vote in the referendum. Participation is mostly below 50 per cent.