Swiss immigration referendum, February 2014

Federal popular initiative
"against mass immigration"
Do you accept the federal popular initiative "against mass immigration"?
Location Switzerland
Date 9 February 2014
Votes %
Yes 1,463,854 50.33%
No 1,444,552 49.67%
Valid votes 2,908,406 98.65%
Invalid or blank votes 39,750 1.35%
Total votes 2,948,156 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 5,211,426 56.57%
Results by canton
Results of the initiative, in the twenty-six cantons of Switzerland. It shows differences between linguistic regions (German-French: +10.6%; German-Italian: -16.0%; French-Italian: -26.6%) as well as between countryside and cities (-9.9%).[1]
Website: Official results

The Swiss federal popular initiative "against mass immigration" (German: Eidgenössische Volksinitiative "Gegen Masseneinwanderung", French: Initiative populaire « Contre l'immigration de masse », Italian: Iniziativa popolare "Contro l'immigrazione di massa") aims to limit immigration through quotas,[3] as it had been prior to the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union launched 2002.

The proposal was launched by the national conservative Swiss People's Party and was accepted by a majority of the electorate (50.3%, a difference of 19,526 votes) and a majority of the cantons (14.5 out of 23; 12 of 20 full cantons plus five of six half cantons) on 9 February 2014. This initiative was mostly backed by rural (57.6% approvals), suburban (51.2% approvals), and isolated cities (51.3% approvals) of Switzerland as well as by a strong majority (69.2% approvals) in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, while metropolitan centers (58.5% rejection) and the French-speaking part (58.5% rejection) of Switzerland rejected it.[1]

The EU/CH bilateral treaties are all co-dependent, if one is terminated then all are terminated. Consequently, should Switzerland choose unilaterally to cancel the 'free movement' agreement then all its agreements with the EU will lapse unless a compromise is found   as of July 2016, no such compromise was in sight.[4]


Transition in stages until free person movement between the European Union and Switzerland.
Transition in stages until free person movement between the European Union and Switzerland.

As of 2014, 23.4% of Switzerland's population are foreigners (9% in Germany). The net immigration is 80,000 people per year, 1% of the total population (three times more than e.g. in Germany, four times more than in the United States). Every year 30,000 to 40,000 receive Swiss nationality (this represents a per capita rate of about three times that of both Germany and the United States).[5][6][7][8] According to the European Commission about 1 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and another 230,000 cross the border daily for work, while 430,000 Swiss live in the EU.[9]

Immigrant workers make up a large part of the Swiss workforce in several industries. Scienceindustries, the Swiss association of chemical, pharma, and biotech businesses, emphasized that they rely on highly qualified workers from outside Switzerland to keep an edge over their competitors, and that 45% out of 67,000 people that its member companies employ in Switzerland are from abroad.[10]

In 2002, the Swiss People's Party launched a federal popular initiative "against asylum abuse" that was rejected by 50.1% of voters (with a difference of 4,208 votes).[11] In 2009, the referendum on biometric passports required by the Schengen Agreement was also accepted by 50.1% of voters (with a difference of 5,680 votes).[11]

More recently, the Swiss People's Party had successfully launched federal popular initiatives "against the construction of minarets" (2009, 57.5%) and "for the expulsion of criminal foreigners" (2010, 52.3%).

Some news commentators claim that the federal popular initiative "against mass immigration" contravenes bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union that guarantee the free movement of persons introduced in 2007 following a referendum in 2000.[12]


Detailed results of the vote on the federal popular initiative "against mass immigration" on 9 February 2014[13]
Category Absolute number Proportion of total Proportion of received Proportion of valid and blank Proportion of valid
Voters 5,211,426 100 % - - -
Ballot papers received 2,948,156 56.57% 100% - -
Null 8,656 0.17% 0.29% - -
Blank votes 31,094 0.60% 1.05% 1.06% -
Valid votes 2,908,406 55.81% (yes and no) 98.65% (yes and no) 98.94% (yes and no) 100%
Yes 1,463,854 28.09% 49.65% 49.80% 50.33%
No 1,444,552 27.72% 49.00% 49.14% 49.67%


National reactions

After the acceptance of the federal popular initiative "against mass immigration", views varied widely as to why the initiative was successful at the polls, and how it might actually be implemented.[14] To some observers, the situation was reminiscent of the referendum held on 6 December 1992, when 50.3% of the Swiss people voted against joining the European Economic Area.[15]

The Swiss People's Party, which was the main proponent of the initiative, celebrated the referendum outcome as a major victory. The party's head Toni Brunner stated: "This is a sea change in Switzerland's migration policy. It is clear that immigration will have to be massively restricted."[16]

Luzi Stamm, the VP of the SVP, praised the outcome of the referendum, saying that Switzerland should "have the right to control [its own immigration]," and indicated that radical right-wing parties in the rest of Europe would enjoy similar victories because of the mistakes of the "[European] politicians."[17]

Some commentators fear a slowdown in economic activity due to the enforcement of the initiative. Business and industry groups were opposed to the initiative during the campaign and expressed concern about the measure's impact on their ability to attract and retain top talent from abroad.[18] The Swiss Bankers Association expressed disappointment and concern at the result, saying: "We urgently need to hold constructive talks with the EU to explain our position".[19]

Although all governing parties except the Swiss People's Party opposed the initiative, the federal council (the Swiss government) announced that it would promptly start implementing the new constitutional provisions and will set to work on re-introducing immigration quotas "without delay".[20] The acceptance of the initiative binds the Swiss government to renegotiate the entire EU labor market agreements with the EU within three years; the current treaties stay in force in the meantime.[21]

European Union reactions

The European Commission issued a statement saying that it was "disappointed" in the Swiss referendum on immigration restriction result but would wait to study how exactly the outcome of the referendum affects the relations between Switzerland and the European Union.[22] European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding stated that the result of the referendum could jeopardise Switzerland's access to the European single market, saying "The single market is not Swiss cheese."[23]

As of July 2016, negotiations had not led to any change in the EU's position that access to the European Single Market is inextricably linked to the principle of free movement of people.[4]


Following protracted discussions between Switzerland and the EU, the Swiss government largely climbed down from the initial referendum proposals, adopting instead a light "Light National Preference" to implement the referendum.[24] This outcome was decried as a failure to properly implement the referendum by the Swiss SVP party (which had promoted the referendum) as it fails to put any curbs on immigration. Its leaders are considering a new referendum. [25]

There climbdown was largely due to the EU's unwavering negotiating tactic, as it was prepared to put at stake all existing collaborations between Switzerland and the European Union, such as:[26]

Education and research

In a statement to HINA, EU Commission spokesperson Joe Hennon said that the vote would influence the next round of talks for Swiss inclusion in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. The talks were about programmes which can be applied for in 2014. For the acacemic year 2011/2012, 2,612 Swiss students went abroad, at the same time 2,673 foreign students came to Switzerland with the Erasmus program.[10][27] Under the Seventh Framework Programme, the predecessor to Horizon 2020, more than one in four Swiss research proposals were funded in a total of 3,000 projects, which was the fourth highest success rate on average. Swiss researchers secured €1.27 billion in EU funding between 2007-2012, including about €356 million in coveted basic research grants from the European Research Council.[10] According to the "Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013" Switzerland was the overall innovation leader before Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Finland. It continuously outperformed the EU27 countries.[28][29] By 26 February 2014, the EU announced that, at least for 2014, Switzerland's status in Horizon2020 would be downgraded from an associated to third country and that Swiss based scientists could not apply for ERC grants.[30]

The referendum will not impact CERNs recruitment as it is an international organisation and does not need Swiss work permits.[10]


Following the referendum the federal council was no longer allowed to sign the already negotiated free movement accord with Croatia, which joined the EU in July 2013. The new Swiss constitution article is immediately binding for the federal council, which now is looking for a way to not discriminate against Croatia. The European Commission connects the negotiations for 2014 Erasmus program and the signing of the free movement accord for Croatia.[31][32][33] On March 4, 2016, Switzerland and the EU signed a treaty that would extend the accord of the free movement of people to Croatia, something which is expected to lead to Switzerland's full readmission into Horizon 2020.[34][35]

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 "Abstimmungen – Indikatoren, Abstimmung vom 9. Februar 2014: Initiative «Gegen Masseneinwanderung»" (web page) (in German and French). Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Neuchâtel 2014. 9 February 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  2. 1 2 In Switzerland, blank and null votes are counted but not considered valid. Only 'yes' and 'no' votes are considered to calculate the majority. See also the official results of the vote on the federal popular initiative "against mass immigration".
  3. (French) Initiative populaire fédérale « contre l'immigration de masse », (page visited on 9 February 2014).
  4. 1 2 EU tells Swiss no single market access if no free movement of citizens The Guardian, 3 July 2016
  5. Acquisition of Swiss citizenship, last 5 years, Swiss Federal Statistics Office. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
  6. Einbürgerungen von Ausländern gesamt und nach Geschlecht, 2000–2012
  7. Schweizer gegen Zuwanderung: Europas mutigste Demokraten, Der Spiegel, 11 February 2014.
  8. Naturalization Fact Sheet, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012-10-24.
  9. "European Commission - MEMO/14/100 10/02/2014". 10 February 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Swiss Vote to Curb Immigration Could Hamper Research". AAAS, Science News. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  11. 1 2 (French) "Un résultat plus serré qu'en 1992 pour l'EEE", Le Temps, p. 4, Monday 10 February 2014.
  12. "Swiss immigration: 50.3% back quotas, final results show", BBC News, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 10 February 2014).
  13. (French) Tableau récapitulatif de la votation numéro 580 du 9 février 2014, Federal Chancellery of Switzerland (page visited on 14 February 2015).
  14. “Comments on Feb 9 Immigration Initiative: A sampling of excerpted reactions and analyses,” Migration as a travel business
  15. (French) Un nouveau dimanche noir,, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 9 February 2014).
  16. "Swiss voters narrowly back referendum curbing immigration", Deutsche Welle, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 10 February 2014).
  17. Mistakes of Brussels breed radicals across Europe - Luzi Stamm, Swiss' People's Party VP RT, 24 February 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014
  18. Swiss Vote to Curb Immigration in Referendum, Bloomberg L.P., 9 February 2014 (page visited on 9 February 2014).
  19. "Swiss voters back limit on immigration", The Washington Post, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 9 February 2014).
  20. "Swiss agree to curb immigration and rethink EU deal",, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 9 February 2014).
  21. "Switzerland nixes deal with Croatia on free labour access". AFP. 16 February 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  22. Swiss Voters Narrowly Approve Curbs on Immigration, The New York Times, 9 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  23. Swiss access to EU market under threat after immigration vote, Financial Times, 9 February 2014 (page visited on 12 February 2014).
  24. Immigration: the unfinished cacophony, Le Temps, September 21, 2016
  25. Martullo-Blocher threatens with referendum against MEI implementation, Tages Anzeiger, 27 November 2016
  26. «Ich sehe ein weiteres Abkommen gefährdet», Tages Anzeiger, 11 February 2014.
  27. Erasmus ade?, 2014-02-11.
  28. "Swiss vote jeopardises involvement in multi-billion EU programmes". EUobserver. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  29. Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013, European Commission.
  30. "Switzerland downgraded by EU on research involvement". 2014-02-26. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  31. Vorerst kein freier Personenverkehr mit Kroatien, SRF, 2014-02-16.
  32. «Horizon 2020» auf Eis gelegt, NZZ, 2014-02-16.
  33. "Europska unija suspendirala pregovore sa Švicarskom zbog Hrvatske" [EU suspended negotiations with Switzerland because of Croatia] (in Croatian). Jutarnji list. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  34. Franklin, Joshua (March 4, 2016). "Swiss, EU Agree to Extend Free Movement Deal to Workers From Croatia". Reuters. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  35. Geiser, Urs (March 4, 2016). "Swiss Announce Unilateral Safeguard Clause to Curb Immigration". Swissinfo. Retrieved March 8, 2016.

See also

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