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11 Feb, 2014 04:15

Swiss referendum: Victory of democracy or immigration phobia?

Swiss referendum: Victory of democracy or immigration phobia?

Switzerland’s decision to curb the flow of EU migrants and secure its borders has sparked a fierce discussion over the country’s future relationship with the bloc. MEPs Jo Leinen and Paul Nuttall debated their viewpoints on RT.

Leinen in Brussels argued that Switzerland needs to work out a new deal with the EU if it hopes to be part of the larger market; otherwise, it needs to face the consequences of its actions.

Paul Nuttall from Liverpool, UK locked teeth with his opponent, arguing that protecting Switzerland’s internal labor market is a decision that has been democratically decided by the country – and which shouldn’t face opposition from Brussels.

RT:Paul, experts suggest the Swiss are gambling with their economy, which depends heavily on the EU market. Can the country afford to sour relations with the European Union over this issue of immigration?

Paul Nuttall:
Look, this is a fantastic day for democracy. The Swiss have gone out; they voted. The majority have said that they want to close the system, that they want to see their borders controlled, and I'll tell you what, it is a great day because finally somebody is stepping up to Brussels.

But the question is where the European Union goes from here. I suspect they'll try to force the Swiss to vote again, have another referendum because that is what the Europeans do. It does not listen to the democratic wish of the people. Let’s not forget, they've ignored the referendum in France, they've ignored the referendum in Holland. They made the Irish vote twice between the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty. This is the big challenge for Brussels, but I suspect they will try to force [Switzerland’s] hand and pick on a smallest boy on the playground.

RT:Jo, could this have any consequences for the EU, perhaps politically?

Jo Leinen: No, this ‘Europhobia’ from Great Britain, we know for years, is absolutely wrong. The agreement between the EU and Switzerland was not done by Brussels, but was done by the Swiss government. They even had a referendum 10 years ago on this, that they wanted the freedom of movement. They wanted these fundamental rights of all the citizens to move freely. It has nothing to do with Brussels’ dictatorship.

But if this agreement is now canceled, of course it has to be renegotiated and Switzerland cannot have it all. They cannot have access for their goods on the bigger [EU] market and restrict [the EU’s] people to come to their country. So there needs to be a new deal and we’ll see what it gives us in the next years.

RT:Paul, The vote was extremely polarized, leaving almost half the population dissatisfied with the results. Why such a narrow divide?

PN: Because that is democracy. The majority have voted in favor, but look – a quarter of the people in Switzerland were not born in Switzerland. There were 80,000 migrants last year. It only has a population of eight million. Wages are being driven down. It is putting pressure on housing, their welfare system, their transport. Quite frankly, it’s the democratic wish of the Swiss people that they want to control their own borders. And good for them.

I wish we could do the same in our own country. I’ll tell you what: let’s have a referendum in Britain on the exact same subject. Four million people have come in the last labor government to live in this country...We can’t control our own borders, we can’t cope anymore. Let’s have a referendum in Britain and let’s go back to the table with the European Union, because trust me, the bargaining chip Britain will have would be far larger than Switzerland, because there are 12 million jobs which are dependent on British trade within the EU.

RT:Jo, Switzerland's decision to limit the number of foreign workers is just the latest example of the growing feeling of nationalism. Where is this trend heading?

JL: I look to Luxembourg. Luxembourg has 35 percent of foreigners and it lives with it very well, because Luxembourg is a growing economy, a growing service sector. And you have seen the reaction of Swiss industry today. Swiss industry was upset with this very slight majority because they need the workers. They get qualified workers not from Africa or Asia; they get it through their neighbor countries – from Italy, from France, from Germany. And they take care of their own need. Let’s see whether this is really the final verdict.

And this whole phobia about immigration is just disgusting…

RT:You’re laughing at all of us here, Paul. What is so funny?

JL: ...The Brits will not do a lot of jobs that have been done by the Polish in your country…They have done dirty jobs.

Let me tell you…

JL: Your industry is [a] totally different opinion…

Reuters / Arnd Wiegmann

RT:Just a moment…order in the court! Paul, you are on…

PN: Seriously, let’s not use Luxembourg as an example; it is not really a country. It’s like a small English town. In fact, there are more people in Liverpool, where I live, than in the whole of Luxembourg. Not really a great example.

Let’s also make one thing clear here as well – we have a million young kids here in this country, 18 to 24, who are unemployed. We’ve got 2.4 million people who can’t get work. It makes no sense whatsoever to saturate your job market even further by having an open-door policy in the whole European Union.

What we want to see in Britain is we want to control our own borders with a points-based system. If you’ve got the skills that this country needs, yes come here and work. What we won’t allow to happen is for people to come from Eastern Europe, in particular, and claim benefits from day one.

JL: You have your border control…You still have border control to go to Britain…

PN: No we don’t…

JL: Most of your people come not from the EU, they come from your older empire…

PN: No, they don’t…


JL: That is your problem. It is not EU citizens, they come from your older empire.

PN: You guys in Brussels control our borders…

RT:I will jump in here… Jo, the introduction of quotas for foreigners would arguably create more job opportunities for the Swiss themselves. Surely that's a good thing?

Every country should choose their future and have their choice, but we have common rules and if you are a member of the club, you follow the rules. If you don’t want to follow the rules, then you have to leave the club. It’s quite simple. And every club is the same thing.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.