On 9 February 2014, Switzerland will vote on the SVP's popular initiative "Against Mass Immigration". This initiative is calling for immigration to be restricted through a ceiling on immigrant numbers (quotas). In the future, this would mean the Swiss state deciding on which companies are entitled to use foreign labour, rather than the Swiss economy itself. For both the agricultural economy and the mechanical and electrical engineering industries (MEM industries), acceptance of the initiative would dramatically restrict the scope for obtaining the necessary labour resources from the EU.
The MEM industries have faced a shortage of specialist workers for many years now. This state of affairs was confirmed once again in a survey conducted by the BAKBasel independent economic research institute. 75 percent of companies in the MEM industries are having difficulty recruiting specialist labour. More than one MEM company in four (28%) currently has vacant positions for specialist staff that it cannot fill. For 71 percent of MEM companies, therefore, being able to recruit specialist workers from the EU is either important or essential. The threat posed by this initiative is evident from the fact that 59 percent of the companies surveyed believe their ability to innovate and compete would be impaired without the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. The heavily export-oriented MEM industries are reliant on innovation if they are to remain internationally competitive. But innovation is impossible without specialist labour – including from elsewhere in Europe.
The Swiss agricultural economy employs some 20,000 foreign workers, a large number of whom work in vegetable cultivation. Businesses engaged in labour-intensive crop cultivation are particularly reliant on these workers, as it is simply not possible to recruit sufficient numbers of Swiss for such demanding physical work. If the initiative were accepted, the agricultural economy would be in a serious predicament, as there would be a risk of priority being given to the sectors that generate high value, which would in turn mean qualified foreign executives taking precedence. The productive agricultural sector that supplies the domestic market with fresh regional products would be jeopardized by acceptance of the initiative.
Bilateral I agreements indispensable
The free movement of persons is one of the four basic freedoms that lie at the heart of the European domestic market. It is fanciful to believe that the EU would grant Switzerland better conditions in new negotiations over this basic principle than it does to its own member states. At the very latest, this endeavour would fail during the ratification process in the 28 national parliaments of the EU member states. As a result of the "guillotine clause", Switzerland's withdrawal from the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (as called for by the initiative) would automatically lead to the collapse of the other six Bilateral I agreements. From the perspective of Swissmem and the Swiss Farmers Association, there is therefore no question that acceptance of this isolationist initiative would herald the end of the "Bilateral I" era.
In addition to the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, the MEM industries also attach great importance to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, the Agreement on Government Procurement, and the Swiss-EU Research Agreement. Overall, 85 percent of the MEM companies surveyed by BAKBasel consider the Bilateral I agreements to be either important or essential. Their termination would result in huge uncertainty over Switzerland's relationship with the EU. In particular, there would be a massive rise in pressure on companies to relocate operations to regions offering a better environment and easier access to specialist labour.
Switzerland cannot afford to put the Bilateral I Agreements in jeopardy if it wants to retain the prerequisites for a successful economic future. These agreements have yielded important benefits for the agricultural economy and Swiss industry, and have made a significant contribution to Switzerland's current prosperity. The SVP's isolationist initiative is the wrong tool with which to tackle the unwanted side-effects of immigration. Instead Switzerland should be planning and implementing a more effective residential construction and infrastructure policy, as well as a coherent asylum policy. The Swiss Farmers Association and the Swissmem are therefore campaigning together for the continuation of the Bilateral I agreements and a rejection of the SVP's isolationist initiative.
Berne, 10 December 2013
For further information, please contact:
Head of Communications
Tel.: +41 44 384 48 50
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Manager French-speaking part of Switzerland
Tel.: +41 21 613 35 85
Mobile: +41 79 644 46 77
Swiss Farmers Association:
Jacques Bourgeois, Director
Tel: +41 79 219 32 33