Mistakes of Brussels breed radicals across Europe - Luzi Stamm, Swiss' People's Party VP

Switzerland has just narrowly voted “Yes” on a referendum to curb immigration into the country. However, the proposed quotas for the new arrivals sparked criticism in the European Union, which stands for the freedom of movement – at the same time greatly separating itself from the huge waves of immigrants. Who is right this time? Is Switzerland’s decision a sign that the future of Europe belongs to the right-wing movements? What caused such a vote and who is its main target? Today we ask these questions to the man from the party that was behind the referendum – Luzi Stamm, the vice president of the Swiss People’s Party, is today’s guest on SophieCo.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:And here we are with Luzi Stamm, vice president of the Swiss People’s Party. Mr. Stamm, it’s great to have you with us. We’re going to go right ahead and ask you, why was this referendum on whether to limit immigration even needed?

Luzi Stamm: Oh, I think for the Swiss population this was very important indeed, because last years have shown that the immigration grew bigger and bigger, and it was Switzerland’s answer to say, “Stop somewhere. We have a limit.”

SS:But the free movement of people across Europe is the pillar of the EU. Aren’t you sort of declaring war on that basic ideal?

LS: You have to face the fact; a crucial point is Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. I think if the EU among their borders wants to have free movement of persons, that’s their problem. But with a third country, an outside country, it seems to be totally normal that immigration is a different story.

SS:Sure, I completely agree with you, it’s not part of the EU. But it is...Europe and also enjoys many treaties with the European Union to facilitate trade or many other things. For example, Germany’s foreign minister has said that this vote will harm Switzerland. The president of the EU Commission warned that Swiss citizens could lose the right to live and work in the EU. Was it worth it? Was it worth the risk?

LS: Yes, I understand that these discussions are on now, but free markets, open markets, and immigration – that’s two different stories. Also obvious, between Russia and the EU, you have to come to some kind of trade agreement. But free immigration with an outside country? That is strange, and I’m confident the EU will understand that we have re-negotiate, we have to re-discuss this problem, this issue of immigration.

SS:From the latest measures that the EU imposed, scientific grants and student exchanges were frozen…Any regrets about that?

LS: I don’t have any regrets at all. I have to regret that within the years – 10 years ago, 20 years ago - it was totally clear that Switzerland is also moving towards free movement of persons, because for everybody it was clear that Switzerland was on the process of joining the EU. Now Switzerland has changed its direction and we do not want to become a member anymore; it seems to be normal that you rearrange immigration.

SS:Which brings me to my next question. You are absolutely right, 14 years ago, Switzerland did sign a treaty with the EU, allowing the free movement. So it was ok then and it’s not ok now. Why? Because you wanted to be part of the EU then and that’s no longer the case?

LS: In my opinion, 14 years ago it was a mistake to negotiate this free movement of persons, but it was logical in the sense that the whole Swiss elite wanted to go towards Brussels, join the EU. To me, that seems to be normal. If Ukraine, for instance, would say to themselves, “it is logical that we are a member of the EU,” then you can start to discuss free movement of persons. But if you want to stay outside in long terms, you would never agree on free movement of persons, because that is the substance of every individual country to have control over immigration - like US, Canada, Japan, China, of course, every country, Russia – has to stay independent in the sense they regulate their immigration themselves, that seems to be logical.

SS:So would you accept a return to visas, quotas, borders?

LS: We want to return to controlling immigration again; visa has to do something with people traveling across the borders. Free movement of persons is similar, but free movement of persons says you have the right to install yourself permanently in a country. And no other independent country would do this. The Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Canadians – nobody would agree “we just open the borders for anybody who wants to come and live here.” The control on the borders is a different story, also important, that’s Schengen. That's controlling the borders. But my main point is immigration; an independent country has to control it itself.

SS:But when you talk about cracking down on immigration or limiting immigration, you automatically feel like you are talking about isolationist policies. And then you can’t help the figure that Switzerland, which is...diplomatic center of the world, how can it live with isolationist policies in the world of globalization?

LS: I have never heard the argument that Australia, Singapore, or whichever country is isolated. Of course, Switzerland doesn’t want to be isolated. We are one of the most open countries in the world, if you take the percentage of foreign people who live here, the percentage of Swiss people who get married with people from other countries, et cetera, et cetera. We are an extremely open-minded country, and this will remain like this and no question on being isolated – that is not a discussion point. We will certainly not be isolated. But, the control about immigration, yes or no, that’s a different story.

SS:Well, can you do anything to ease the concern of Switzerland’s multi-national companies that this will be bad for business?

LS: I think so. We have to show our own industry, and we have to show our friends, our neighbors that we are open-minded, and we are on good cooperation grounds, no doubt about this; any other field, be this transports, this would be research – you name it, we can have contracts with our friends and neighbors, and for our industry…people who really bring support and help build up Switzerland – of course we’ll let them immigrate, every country does this. If Russia, if the US needs people to come and work here, they can let them come with the industry, we are an open country...But [with] free movement of persons, we cannot control anymore. This the Swiss population doesn’t want.

SS:So what kind of immigrants are you trying to limit and why?

LS: This will be the discuss which we’ll have within the next one, two, three years within Switzerland, left parties, right parties, et cetera. The question cannot be answered so easily…look at the other European countries. It’s obvious they have free movement of persons, but nevertheless they have problems with the immigration also. If you talk to people from Great Britain, if you talk to Spain, to Italy – they have a problem with the immigration from Romania, from the East, and there is a part of the immigration which causes problems. And I don’t see why an outside country like Switzerland should not have the right to control this.

SS:So for you, the main immigration target is the same as all the EU members are concerned: the newly joined members like Bulgaria, Romania, and all the Eastern European block – am I correct? Is this your target group?

LS: Our target is to make it possible again to control and to limit. We do not want at all to make a difference between different countries; we do not want to make a difference between Portugal, between Estonia, between Greece and Ireland, all the members of the EU. Of course we want to treat them all the same, but if the number of immigrants is growing as much as it has grown last years, then I think if people from the EU hear the dimensions, they understand what we are talking about and I think we have to find means to limit.

SS:What about highly qualified professionals? Are they also going to be limited?

LS: I think the percentage of highly qualified immigration is so small that we do not ever have a problem. Quantity altogether is a problem. I usually stress the point that if you compare Switzerland with the EU as a whole, in dimensions, it is as the EU would have year per year 10 million new permissions for people to move into the EU. That’s the dimensions, because Switzerland is so small - 8 million. EU more than 500 hundred million. We have immense immigration in Switzerland, and please understand, the people who are responsible for the EU, please understand, we do have a tremendous problem and we have to solve it ourselves.

SS:We were talking about what kind of immigration you would like to curb. But then when you talk about curbing immigration, the first question that arises of course is: are Swiss willing to do the jobs that immigrants traditionally do? I mean cleaning, factory work…

LS: Oh yes, of course. Swiss people are ready to make the work which has to be done in Switzerland. That’s like any country and from the economic point of view, if you open too quickly and totally, you will have pressure on the salaries, that’s obvious. So I think Switzerland is better off if they do lots of the work themselves, like educating people to be doctors and not just import foreign people on lower salaries, that’s a mistake I believe.

SS:But if they’re being imported, doesn’t that mean that there is an economic need for them?

LS: In a certain way, of course. Let’s take this famous example between California and Mexico; if you would open the borders totally, of course many employers from California would hire Mexicans with low income, that is obvious. Same development we see in Europe; it’s obvious that in Germany, they want to hire, to a certain degree, people from the Eastern countries with lower salaries. But please understand that Switzerland is trying to resolve this problem by their own rules and limit immigration in some way.

SS:I do have a question concerning your particular campaign. I saw one campaign poster asked if there are too many Muslims in Switzerland. I also know your party was behind a country-wide minaret ban. So you get a feeling that it is just an anti-Muslim thing. What do you say for that?

LS: I don’t have the impression that it has the religious side; this campaign, this problem, this initiative, certainly did not. But one problem that everywhere exists is an obvious problem: if you have movements too quickly, if from any Muslim country there is too much immigration into another country, they cannot handle this problem well. I think the politicians have the responsibility to control that developments like this are slowed down in a certain way, because integration is possible if it doesn’t go too fast; so fast movements are always a mistake, whether in religion or in politics.

SS:Do you feel like a rising Muslim culture is a threat to Switzerland right now?

LS: Right now, no, or not yet. I saw the developments in Italy; I am often in Italy and my children, 20 years old, they are in Italy often, and they say we have an increasing problem between the youth of Italy and from North Africa, also Muslims. We have problems that they start not liking each other. And I say, this is the responsibility of the politicians. If you admit these movements to be too quickly, you cause the problems, and that’s the thing to handle. Europe has shown with all these problems that too much of different cultures can also be a problem.

SS:Why was there a Muslim woman in a veil pictured on your poster if your campaign is to curb the immigration in general and not particularly target the Muslim group?

LS: That is a wonderful side of the Swiss’ democracy that anybody can pose up in posters, and anybody can go into newspapers and publish whatever he wants. This picture you’ve talked about right now, this is not our official party. Our party said “we have to limit this and this” and then inevitably there is also groups of people who come up perhaps with a little bit more radical slogans, but that doesn’t hurt. That doesn’t hurt because it’s much better in the Swiss system these problems are discussed, they are discussed openly, and like this you don’t have any changes and radical tendencies.

SS:It looked like a scare tactic to us. Do you think Europe in general has a problem with the rise of the Muslim culture within its borders?

LS: Europe starts to have a problem if the politicians make mistakes. Let’s say if Europe, the EU, suddenly open its borders towards North Africa, and they would say “Everybody, free movement of persons” also towards North Africa, of course you would have problems and this would be a tremendous mistake the politicians can make. So I strongly believe it's politicians' responsibility if problems arise.

SS:Now let’s talk about the European reaction to your referendum. Why do you think the EU is so upset by the vote when Switzerland, like you’ve said, isn’t part of the bloc and isn’t planning to join?

LS: The EU has certain rules and the free movement of persons is one. Everywhere traveling around free, like the US between New York and California, it’s one principle. Everywhere is the same money, it’s another principle. Everywhere the same law, the same right, and that is the next principle…

SS:Yes, but like you’ve said, you’re not part of the EU. So why would they be so upset about it?

LS: Yes, yes...but they might be saying, “okay, if Switzerland as a small country is successful, the wealth is better than in other areas of the EU, it might be a certain jealousy, it might be a certain fear that if Switzerland proves to be a successful country then we’ll have similar reactions in the EU.” I don’t know, you have to ask our colleagues and friends in the EU why they do not like this development in Switzerland.

SS:Do you feel like the EU’s multiculturalism policies are being imposed on Switzerland?

LS: It is imposed if they insist that we have to have the same immigration rule. Then, of course, you can talk about impose. I don’t think that the EU has the right towards the outside, either Switzerland or the Ukraine, or Russia. The EU does not have the right to impose the immigration laws to somebody else. Yes, in that sense it is not correct if they would behave like this.

SS:If you look at the larger picture, the idea that immigration is failing is also a growing one within the EU. Is this just scapegoating, or is something more profound happening? What do you think?

LS: That’s difficult to judge. Again, if the EU thinks that this principle – free movement – is ok for their own territory, it’s ok between Greece and Ireland, they can handle this like they want. Me, as a Swiss politician, I would never tell them what to do, because I don’t have the right and this would be totally un-Swiss to tell anybody else how to behave.

SS:You know, I’m just trying to get your perspective on the broader picture. Right-leaning parties similar to yours are on the rise in many European states and like you’ve said, even if Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, it is part of Europe. So I’m sure that your victory will no doubt give them another boost. Why do you think this is happening? Why are the right-wing movements on the rise right now?

LS: It is not my duty to criticize the European Union, but then when read it in the media and news, et cetera, I say to myself, “watch out responsible people in Brussels, you have the tendency to also make mistakes.” If they don’t handle their problems well, if you have an unemployment rate that jumps up, I think the responsible politicians in Brussels, Germany...I name Germany and France because they are powerful, I think they should start thinking over where their mistakes are, because radical groups and radical parties only start to exist when those who have power in hand make mistakes.

SS:But where do you think they are making their mistakes? Is this immigration policies? Is this their main downfall?

LS: I said before that I do not want to criticize the EU and now in a certain way I do it anyway. Everywhere the same currency – I’m talking about the Euro – is an obvious mistake which brought them problems. They have to handle that themselves. I think free movement of persons has also a very dangerous part. If you look at the problems the Eastern countries have, like Romania – millions of people leaving the country on one hand - and then on the other hand, you have - especially, Italy, Spain, France, England, also London – one hundred thousand people from Romania within a short time. I think they should bring up new standards and new system to handle these problems, but again, they have to decide. That’s the business of the EU.

SS:But it sounds like the European ideals are failing, the EU ideals are failing. What do you think?

LS: Yes, we have to be careful. But it is not only the EU, it’s also the United States. If I look at the last 10 or even 20 years, with a lot of regret, I see that even the so-called rich countries, like Germany, France, also California I named, they are on the way down, if I judge the situation correctly. If I travel around in California, I see poverty, which I have never seen there in recent years. If I travel trough France, Paris, down to Marseille, it is a frightening increase in poverty, so that means the politicians make tremendous mistakes.

SS:So do you think by curbing immigration, that would take care of the problem? At least partially?

LS: I strongly believe that if you have a control over immigration, people who are responsible, politicians who are responsible for a certain area - for a certain area in Africa, for a certain area here in Europe - let’s take Switzerland; you only can solve the problems in a positive, good way if this area is limited. If as a politician you have to decide for the whole world, if you have to decide for Bulgaria and Germany, re-impose the same rules, that gets difficult. If you see Greece, if you see France, and they have such problems and economical possibilities, the smaller you have the entities, the easier. And perhaps in a certain way, the EU can also learn something from Switzerland in that regard.

SS:You’ve brought up France many times. The latest polls from France say that the majority of people there are disappointed by the EU. No doubt the results were influenced also by your referendum in Switzerland. Do you think other countries will follow Switzerland’s example?

LS: I don’t see how European countries who are member of the EU can solve the problem without leaving the EU. So it’s obvious that countries like Great Britain or France, you named France especially, with increasing poverty in my opinion – they have a difficult time to solve these problems. But I think at least they should rearrange the principle rules of free movement of persons and improve the system.

SS:All right, Mr. Stamm, thank you very much for this interview. Luzie Stamm from the Swiss People’s Party, the force behind the measure limiting immigration into Switzerland, that’s just been approved on the referendum, thank you very much for being with us today. That’s it for SophieCo this time. We will see you next time.

LS: And thank you very much, it was my pleasure. Thank you and good luck to you and your country.