- (February 2014)
The anti-immigration referendum in Switzerland is not what you may think.
Swiss voters narrowly voted in favor of laws that will limit foreign workers
in their country. Superficial headlines lumped this event to the general rise
of xenophobia in Europe. However, a closer look shows that this event has to be
read in completely different manners.
First of all, the big cities in which foreigners live are the places where
Swiss voters voted "no". It's rural Switzerland (where relatively few foreigners
live) that voted "yes". Secondly,
this is not about poor immigrants from Africa (the usual culprit in southern
Europe). The largest foreign group in Switzerland is
Italians, and the strongest sentiment against foreigners is probably against
Germans (despite the fact that 65% of Swiss people are German speakers).
And the reason that these groups are viewed with hostility by some Swiss is
not that they work illegally or belong to criminal organizations:
foreigners push rent up and salaries down. Germans, French and Italians who
work in Switzerland have caused a crisis in rental apartments. Whether they
also tend to work for lower salaries might or might not be true, but that is
the general perception.
In southern Europe the xenophobic sentiment is fueled by unemployment.
Hardly so in Switzerland where unemployment stands at 3%, the lowest in
all of Europe and one of the lowest in the world.
Switzerland is in many ways the exception to the European economic and
democraphic crises. Its population has been growing (quite substantially)
and its GDP has been growing; and of course the latter phenomenon is largely
the cause for the former. In fact, 23% of the Swiss population is foreign born,
a percentage almost double that of the USA (13%). If the USA is a country
of immigrants, than Switzerland certainly qualifies too.
Where Switzerland and the USA part is in the way immigrants are integrated.
Switzerland is more similar to Dubai than to the USA in that Swiss citizens
enjoy a much higher status and privileges than immigrants (no matter how
educated and paid the immigrants are) and the path to citizenshp is much
harder in Switzerland. This has created a three-class system similar to
the one in Dubai: temporary workers from poor countries employed in
construction, baby sitting and other humble jobs (with virtually no hope of
becoming a citizen unless they marry a Swiss person), highly educated white-collar workers from Western countries in finance and technology (who mostly
spend only a few years or months in Switzerland) and the native Swiss at the
top, with some of the best benefits in the world.
The other oddity of Switzerland, as far as continental Europe goes, is that
it is a very liberal economy surrounded by relatively "socialist" economies.
Its closer relative is Britain, not France and not Germany.
Switzerland is not part of the European Union but it is surrounded by it.
The Swiss rejection of European immigrants has greatly annoyed the European
Union, and for good reasons. To start with, 60% of Swiss goods are exported to
EU countries. Secondly,
Switzerland is not part of the European Union but
it gets a lion's share of EU's spending on R&D. The biggest and most prestigious
of European research centers, CERN, is located in a Swiss city (Geneva) although
most of its budget comes from EU members.
Under the pretense of "neutrality",
Switzerland has been historically guilty of terrible crimes that have never
quite been punished. It clearly helped Hitler deport Jews and steal their
wealth. It openly helped mafia bosses, dictators and drug cartels smuggle
and hide huge fortunes.
Switzerland became a rich country because of its banks, not because of its
watches. But its banks used highly immoral practices to attract customers
from all over the world, practices are only now being dismantled under
The rest of Europe has always forgiven the Swiss for their complicity in
all sorts of international tragedies. Allowing so many foreigners to work
in Switzerland has been one exceptionally good way to clean itself of past
Switzerland should not be afraid of the economic consequences of this
anti-immigration law but of the psychological consequences.
People might start to remember what Switzerland had been very good at
making them forget and forgive.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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