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New Immigration Law Tests Swiss, European Relationship

A man passes by election posters demanding a stop to immigration, in Geneva on Monday.
Anja Niedringhaus
A man passes by election posters demanding a stop to immigration, in Geneva on Monday.

A new, voter-approved referendum limiting the number of immigrants who enter Switzerland has unleashed tough words from the country's European partners.

The AP reports that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would "review our relationship with Switzerland." German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble put it more bluntly, saying the referendum would "cause a lot of trouble for Switzerland."

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The quota initiative, spearheaded by the right-wing Swiss People's Party, tapped into widespread concern that rising immigration has created too much competition for jobs, pushed up property prices and rents, and overburdened the local transportation system. About 64,000 EU citizens have settled in Switzerland every year over the past decade, according to the Federal Office for Migration."

As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the referendum caps the number of immigrants able to come into the country at 80,000; it passed just barely with 50.3 percent of the vote.

But, the paper explains, the decision effectively tears up the "Schengen Agreement with the European Union that allows people to travel freely without passports."

The AFP reports that a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said the passage of the referendum reflects "that there is growing concern around the impact that free movement can have."

The U.K. is planning a referendum on joining the E.U. in 2017.

The Journal reports that the Swiss business community is also worried.

"Switzerland's business community has cautioned the measure has the potential to jeopardize the country's robust economy, which has sidestepped the recession and high unemployment levels that have beset many of its neighbors. Switzerland sells more than half of its 201 billion Swiss francs ($224 billion) in annual exports to the EU," the Journal reports. "Oliver Adler, head of research at Credit Suisse, estimates that Switzerland's economic output will likely decline by 1.2 billion Swiss francs, or 0.3% of gross domestic product, over the three-year phase-in period."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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