Switzerland: Right-wing SVP triumphs amid immigration concerns; no change in economic policy expected
October 21, 2015
The conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) triumphed on the 18 October general elections amid mounting concerns over immigration and asylum policies at a time when Europe is facing its worst refugee crisis in decades. The SVP, which was already the dominant party in Parliament, managed to secure 11 more seats compared to the previous general elections in 2011 and now controls 65 seats. The left-wing Social Democrats party—the second-biggest party—lost support over the previous elections and now has 43 seats. Conversely, the center-right FDP.The Liberals party gained ground and won 33 seats, up from the 30 seats it had before. The new Parliament will elect a seven-member government council (Swiss Federal Council) on 9 December with representatives from across the political spectrum on the basis of proportionality and strategic deals among political parties. The SVP’s ability to reshape economic policy will largely depend on whether it will be able to secure a larger representation in the country’s Federal Council.
Conservative parties’ appeal in Switzerland has strengthened in recent years in response to high immigration from the European Union (EU). The relationship with the EU was badly impaired after the country voted last year in favor of restricting immigration from the EU in a popular referendum backed by the SVP. About a quarter of the country’s population is foreign nationals and studies show that immigration and asylum policies are among voters’ top concerns. Moreover, Europe’s current refugee crisis has given an additional boost to the right-wing parties. Although Switzerland has been less affected by the crisis compared to neighboring Austria and Germany, concerns about uncontrolled immigration are rising. Besides being skeptical about the country’s many bilateral agreements with the European Union, the SVP is also advocating for a restriction on immigration.
One of the major challenges for the incoming government will be the implementation of the 2014 immigration referendum by imposing quotas on EU-immigrants without ruining relationships with the EU, which is Switzerland’s biggest export market. The Swiss government has already proposed a bill to revise the immigration rules and now faces rough talks with EU officials, who have stated that the Schengen treaty, which ratifies the free movement of people, is not negotiable. If Switzerland were to cancel the treaty unilaterally, this would likely be detrimental for its economy.
Author: Dirina Mançellari, Senior Economist