The famously independent Swiss sent their European neighbors a loud and clear message recently: We get to decide who lives here.
Going against the “borderless” labor market concept advocated by the European Union, a majority of Switzerland voters approved a referendum to curb immigration levels and require that Swiss nationals be given priority in hiring.
Like most of Western Europe, Switzerland has seen massive levels of immigration in recent years. Today, one in four Swiss residents is foreign-born.
The 28-member EU, of which Switzerland is not a member, has tried to integrate the bloc by easing restrictions and allowing people to live, work and study – and draw welfare benefits – in any member country. The vote signals Europe’s mass migration may be coming to an end.
Backers of the Swiss referendum said excessive migration has led to poor wage growth, higher rents and overtaxed health and education systems. Nationalist parties in other European nations say unchecked immigration has had a similar effect on their countries.
More prosperous nations are worried their welfare systems cannot handle an influx of workers from the poorer Eastern European countries and some southern member EU states.
In Germany, home to Europe’s largest economy, the government has appointed a committee to look into ways of curbing “benefits tourism,” the practice of migrating to the country for the sole purpose of tapping its generous social benefits.
Polls throughout Europe show rising support for immigration curbs, and nationalist parties pushing immigration reform have grown in prominence.
“It is becoming more and more obvious to people across Europe that unfettered free movement from the poorest countries on the continent into the more advanced ones with higher living standards and welfare entitlements is unsustainable,” Britain’s U.K. Independence Party said in a statement after the Swiss vote.
“What the Swiss can do, we can do too: cut immigration and leave the EU,” Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Freedom Party, posted on Twitter.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, also hailed the Swiss vote in an interview on Europe 1 radio, saying: “The country is our house. We the people have the right to decide who comes in.”
This vote is as much about preserving Swiss culture as it is protecting its economy. That’s not xenophobia. It’s preservation.
This world is speckled with a human mosaic of ethnicities and nationalities that is beautiful, fascinating and fun. Those differences should be celebrated, not erased.
Ironically, multiculturalism could lead to “monoculturalism.”