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A voter puts his ballot into a box at a polling statio near Geneva today. AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
knife edge

Switzerland votes to cap EU immigration by tiny margin

Pollsters say that voters have narrowly backed the plan to cut down on EU citizens migrating to Switzerland.

SWISS VOTERS HAVE narrowly backed curbs on immigration from the European Union with 50.4 per cent in favour in a referendum today, a polling agency has said.

Claude Longchamp, head of the gfs.bern polling institute, told public broadcaster SRF that the result remained on a knife-edge, with a margin of error of just 0.7 per cent, but that the Yes vote looked set to win.

The referendum was seen as a crunch test of the neutral country’s ties with the 28 members of the EU.

The measure would bind the Swiss government to renegotiate within three years a deal with Brussels that since 2007 has given most EU citizens free access to the country’s labour market.

The populists said that with 80,000 EU citizens arriving per year — rather than the 8,000 predicted before the rules were liberalised — it was time for the nation of eight million people to rein things in.

Their opponents, including the government and lobby groups from across the economy, argued immigrants were needed to drive Swiss business and industry, and that ripping up the free movement deal would mean the demise of a handful of related economic accords with the EU.

Immigration and national identity are traditional political themes in a country with a long history of drawing foreign workers and some of Europe’s toughest rules for obtaining citizenship.

But over recent years, the proportion of foreigners has risen from around one-fifth of the population to roughly a quarter.

The majority of recent immigrants are from neighbouring Germany, Italy and France, as well as Portugal.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: How Switzerland became the quiet rebel of Europe >

Read: Joan Burton has no plans for UK-style crackdown on welfare for jobless immigrants >

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