They were almost all present, on 6 January in Berne, the first day of the new political year in Switzerland. Twelve of the country's most important business leaders closed ranks to warn Swiss citizens of the "disastrous consequences," in the words of their President, Heinz Karrer, of the 'Halt immigration' initiative launched by the UDC (anti-European party). If endorsed by Swiss voters, on 9 February, it would abolish free movement, replacing it with the reintroduction of quotas.
Karrer pointed out that a vote of approval would endanger all bilateral agreements concluded with the EU. "Their termination would have a serious impact on us. Europe is the leading market for Swiss products. Last year, we exported nearly 100 billion worth of goods to the Union. We also participate in large-scale European research programmes and take part in public tenders. Public contracts in EU countries add up to 1,250 billion," he insisted.
Over and above the question of market access, the other message delivered by the business community is that a competitive economy needs to be able to hire the specialised workforce it needs "quickly and without complications," explained Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss employers' organisation Union patronale suisse. Hospitals, hotels, tourism and the agriculture sector would be penalised the most severely if the initiative were to pass. At the end of 2012, nearly one fourth of doctors were natives of Germany. Among other medical staff, around 20% are from France and Germany, roughly in equal numbers.
The participants also denounced the...