Thursday, January 23, 2014

The initiative against mass immigration: Is it really just about immigration policy and economic success models?

A lot is at stake with the upcoming initiative against mass immigration. With the termination of the agreement on the free movement of persons with the EU (one of four fundamental freedoms), all the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU might begin to totter. Economic circles are fighting the initiative at the forefront by stressing the importance of the free movement of persons in order to meet the demand for qualified labor. In this view, a change of course could only happen at the expense of the economic success model Switzerland.

Economic circles tend to argue similarly with all initiatives that could have negative effects on them. In their perspective, this is understandable in principle.
However, their sometimes-exaggerated scenarios of economic gloominess in case of an adoption of the initiative presumably rather aim at scaring non-business circles, so that they vote in line with the highly particularistic interests of the economy. Economic arguments clearly predominate the opposition to this initiative.
For the opponents it is primarily about economic liberalism, but for the proponents the core of the initiative is about introducing a more restrictive immigration policy. Both arguments ignore that (high or low-skilled) migration to successful metropolitan areas is a fundamental reality of today’s world, which cannot be prevented by politics. Migration to metropolitan areas is a global phenomenon: Zurich, Hamburg, Paris, Mumbai or Moscow – all successful metropolitan areas attract people form the respective home country as well as from abroad. In addition to clear positive effects there are also negative ones: Not only the settlement structure changes but the entire infrastructural and social geography of a region (e.g. density problems such as housing shortages; rapidly changing social structure).

The mass immigration initiative does not solve these problems. Nevertheless, conservative isolationist forces have gained a lot of votes in many European countries lately. However, their solution – the return of the autarkic and intact national state – must fail under the given circumstances. On the other hand, the demands for boundless economic opportunities do not tackle these problems either. On the contrary, they promote the trend of migrating to metropolitan regions (e.g. the keyword “competition for talents”) without acknowledging or reflecting the problems. 
One reason that the initiative against mass immigration has such a good prognosis for success might be found exactly in this set of problems arising around mass migration in metropolitan areas. This is where the shoe pinches for many citizens. Therefore the core of the discussion should not revolve around whether Switzerland wants total (economic) isolation or total (economic) opening. It should be about how this reality of influx in successful metropolitan areas, which has started long before the agreement on the free movement of persons, can be more positive or at least bearable for all stakeholders. This is a matter that should be addressed by politicians. There is still a long way to go, especially in Europe, which remains only partially intertwined, despite the EU. A truly problem-oriented approach would also hand over a big part of the responsibility to the economy, which would necessarily have to stop following particularistic interests detached from the concerns of the “general public”. But chances for this are low, since a dismissal of the initiative would take off the pressure on the economy almost entirely. In contrast, an adoption of the initiative would lead us into non-problem oriented isolation.

To conclude: When it comes to voting yes or no to this initiative, I agree with the Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga who stated in the political broadcast “Arena” that a ‘yes’ out of pure protest would be misplaced in this vote.

Claude Meier

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