Swiss voters lean to the right marked by the immigration debate | International

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Members of the Swiss Parliament pose for a group photograph on the last day of the legislature, on September 29 in Bern.DENIS BALIBOUSE (REUTERS)

This Sunday, Switzerland elects a new Parliament that is expected to lean to the right, with a recovery of votes by the main party, the nationalist and populist SVP (Swiss People's Party, in its German acronym), according to polls. Although they do not foresee drastic changes in the political scenario, they do predict an increase of up to around 28% for this force (an increase of between 2.5 and 3 points) and a setback for the Greens, who took a leap four years ago driven by the debate on the fight against climate change and achieved 13.5% of the votes, which would now remain around 10% - the social democrats of the SP remain in the polls as the second force with close to 18%, while the liberals of the FDP and the Center party are fighting for third position, with around 14%. Although global warming continues to be among the concerns of the electorate, the immigration and asylum debate, the main battlehorse of the SVP, has once again gained weight.

“The issue of illegal migration is not so visible now in Switzerland, but it is in the surrounding countries, in Germany and Italy, and in Greece, and that influences the perception of the electorate. A migration crisis is brewing in neighboring countries and that is raising awareness among the population,” explains Daniel Kübler, a political scientist at the University of Zurich, via videoconference.

The nationalist right has not only focused its campaign on stopping the entry of foreigners - one of its mottos is "too many arrive and they are the wrong ones" - but it has also launched a popular initiative with which voters must decide in the ballot boxes if drastic measures are taken to limit population growth to a maximum of 10 million people in 2050. Switzerland already has around nine million inhabitants, of which nearly a quarter are foreigners.

After the pandemic stopped, the migratory balance has grown again, up to 68,800 people in 2022 (compared to 53,800 in 2020, according to official data), and also asylum requests (24,511 in 2022 compared to 14,928 the previous year). , to which are added around 84,000 Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion.

With its recurring proposals to close the doors to immigration (sometimes with xenophobic slogans), the SVP also points to the free movement of people agreed in 2002 with the EU, of which it is not a part, and which it has tried to stop. in recent years with several initiatives. Faced with a positive balance in the reports of the Government and employers on the incorporation of migrants from the EU (and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as members of the European Free Trade Association) as a workforce in the country - they represent an average of two thirds of the entries to the country in the last 20 years―, the SVP paints a gloomy scenario of overpopulation and lack of space in the small Alpine republic, in addition to fueling nationalist sentiment and hallmarks such as neutrality or direct democracy that characterizes its political system.

The Swiss populist right is confident of winning votes lost four years ago in a European context of the rise of ultra parties like the AfD in Germany, which also have the rejection of immigration among their priorities, but their strength among the electorate is not new. Its all-time high dates back to 2015, when it achieved 29.4% of the votes. “The growth of the SVP was, so to speak, avant-garde, against the current, and now it seems that it can recover part of the loss, according to the surveys, but it does not seem that it will achieve a historical maximum, as noted in other countries. The SVP grew earlier, it is integrated into the institutions, it is the largest party. It is not something unusual in the Swiss system, compared to the challenge it poses in other countries,” Fabio Wasserfallen, a political scientist at the University of Bern and one of the heads of the Leewas institute for population studies, points out by phone.

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On the other side of the scale are the Greens, who are losing traction and are unable to continue capitalizing on the fight against climate change that made them the big winner of the 2019 elections, along with the Liberal Greens party (GLP), to which a drop is also predicted, but smaller. Parliament has approved a new law to combat climate change in the legislature, but other parties also place environmental protection among their objectives. “It is no longer so clear how the Greens and SP differ on the issue of the environment,” says Kübler.

After a legislature marked by the pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine, the polls highlight among the main concerns of voters the costs of health, which have been placed in first place before the announcement of a strong increase next year to sustain the public-private system. Also in the increase in the cost of rent, energy and the shopping basket (despite a contained inflation of 2.8% on average during 2022), or security in pensions, in addition to migration and asylum, and global warming.

On the other hand, foreign policy, and particularly the relationship with the EU, has not found space in a campaign marked by national issues. In May 2021, the Swiss Government broke off negotiations to sign a new institutional framework agreement with Brussels that both parties began to outline in 2014 to update and consolidate the bilateral agreements signed in the last two decades and that give the country privileged access without obstacles to the single market, and which include the free movement of people between both parties and membership of the Schengen area. After a period of tension, talks for the framework agreement have been resumed, but as long as there is no conclusion, Brussels will not update existing bilateral pacts or sign new ones. In this situation, the Swiss parties have chosen not to touch on an issue in the campaign that divides them and does not seem to matter among voters. “Health costs are now the main issue, the population notices it in their pockets. The erosion of bilateral agreements and institutional cooperation with the EU is not something that worries people in everyday life, it is very abstract and almost no one has a direct relationship with the problem,” explains Wasserfallen.

Brussels, in any case, urges to accelerate an agreement, so that the Switzerland-EU relationship will be a prominent issue in the next legislature. But for now the ball is in the court of the federal government and voters “have the intuition that it does not matter much who they vote for in relation to this issue,” adds the Bern political scientist. This is also because the election of the new Parliament (200 seats in the lower house and 46 in the upper house) does not imply in the Swiss system a change of Executive, a collegiate body of seven representatives that is renewed or confirmed in December and that It follows a distribution rule between the main parties established in 1959. For now, it was only readjusted in 2003 to give more weight to the ultranationalists given their growth at the polls.

After intense debates about the war in Ukraine and the search by several parties for a solution to the Swiss ban on re-exporting to Kiev weapons sold to third countries - an issue that remains on the table - due to the clash with Swiss neutrality, the The conflict has also remained in the background in the electoral campaign. “Neutrality is another issue that we don't want to talk about now and that will be, along with the relationship with the EU, important in the next legislature. The war in Ukraine has shown two things: that neutrality and a ban on re-exporting weapons is a problematic issue when one wants to be perceived as a reliable partner in the European security system, and also that there is a question about whether the army could defend the country. ”, highlights Daniel Kübler.

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