Just few days after Brexit, Switzerland follows in the footsteps of Britain as it prepares to hold referendum on exit from the EU.
Switzerland is set to hold a vote on Schengen, the area comprising 26 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control. While an EU initiative, the Schengen area also includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, none of which are member states. The May 17 vote will see Swiss residents vote on whether they want to regain control of their borders.
Such a decision would be a bitter blow to Brussels in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the trade bloc.
Recommending its citizens vote down rejecting Schengen, the Swiss government said in a statement: “That would have painful consequences, primarily for security and asylum issues but also for border traffic and freedom to travel.”
According to Swiss authorities, Schengen was responsible for 55,000 immigrants in the country last year.
In total there were 2.1 million immigrants living in Switzerland in 2019.
The largest groups of EU citizens living in the country are from Italy, Germany, France, and Portugal.
If the outcome of the referendum is to leave the common Schengen area, Switzerland will take back unilateral control of their borders though at the cost of abrogating the free-movement pact with the EU.
But the government argue the vote – dubbed their ‘Brexit moment’ by local media – would have grave consequences not only for the security of the country but also for border traffic and freedom of travel.
Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is a complex one.
The nation is not a member state with the bloc but it is associated with Brussels through a series of bilateral treaties.
According to the preamble of the EU decision ratifying the agreements: “The seven agreements are intimately linked to one another by the requirement that they are to come into force at the same time and that they are to cease to apply at the same time, six months after the receipt of a non-renewal or denunciation notice concerning any one of them.”
The agreement covers free movement, air traffic, road traffic, agriculture, trade barriers, science and procurement.
A bilateral agreement covers the Schengen area.
The upcoming referendum will look at abolishing free movement of EU citizens across Switzerland.
The EU-Swiss relationship is currently governed by 120 bilateral economic accords, which are set to erode over time if they are not updated.
Talks over a permanent treaty over the last four-and-a-half years remain deadlocked over Swiss fears that the country has ceded too much of its sovereignty to Brussels.