Photographer: Harold Cunningham/Bloomberg

Swiss Government to Offer Rival Plan on Immigration Do-Over

  • Swiss voted in 2014 to implement quotas for EU newcomers
  • Vote on so-called Rasa initiative still is years away

The Swiss government will make a counter-proposal to a pending popular initiative that aims to strike immigration quotas for European Union newcomers from the constitution.

The exact content of the countermeasure will formulated once parliament decides how to implement a 2014 plebiscite on immigration limits, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

For a QuickTake Q&A why Swiss are voting on immigration again, click here

A group of Swiss citizens is trying to overturn the “mass immigration” initiative imposing an upper limit on newly arriving citizens of EU countries, ending the practice currently in effect that allows them to take up jobs and employment freely. The quotas, enshrined by that plebiscite in the constitution, would undermine a pillar of Swiss-EU relations, breaking with a treaty whose loss could cost the economy tens of billions of francs. Officials in Brussels have said they won’t renegotiate any immigration provisions.

“Similarly to the initiators, the government is of the opinion that Switzerland relies on good and stable relations with the EU and that the bilateral agreements must be preserved,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters in Bern. “On democratic grounds, however, the government rejects overturning the result of a vote after so short a period of time.”

Since the U.K. vote to leave the EU, “it’s clear to Switzerland that the EU will not make any or any substantial concessions,” she said.

For a QuickTake explainer on Switzerland’s people power, click here

The government, which issues recommendations on all pending popular initiatives, said the measure -- officially called “Get us out of the dead-end street,” or Rasa for short in German -- should be rejected by the electorate. It said it would transmit its message to parliament by the deadline of April 27, 2017.

Popular initiatives are a part of Switzerland’s much-vaunted system of direct democracy, with votes typically taking place four times a year. For any measure, the government may offer a counter-proposal.

The citizens seeking to overturn the 2014 plebiscite submitted the 100,000 necessary signatures a year ago to the government in Bern. The Rasa initiative as well as the government’s countermeasure will be voted upon simultaneously. A date for a nation-wide ballot hasn’t yet been set and is probably a few years away.

Meanwhile, parliament is trying to break the impasse between Switzerland and the EU with a plan that sidesteps quotas in favor of giving current Swiss residents labor-market precedence. Voting on that proposal could be accomplished by year end, and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said earlier this month it wouldn’t need EU approval.

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