Switzerland referendum: Voters reject end to free movement with EU


image copyrightEPA

image captionOpponents of the proposal argued it would damage relations with the EU and hurt trade

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to end an accord with the EU allowing the free movement of people.

With all referendum votes counted, nearly 62% said they wanted to keep free movement, while 38% were against.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU but has a series of interdependent treaties with Brussels which allow it to access to Europe’s free trade area.

The move to rein in immigration was proposed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), but opposed by the government.

A similar initiative to introduce quotas on immigrants from the EU to Switzerland narrowly passed in a 2014 referendum, damaging Swiss-EU relations.

Swiss people are given a direct say in their own affairs under the country’s system of direct democracy. They are regularly invited to vote on various issues in national or regional referendums.

  • The Swiss free movement vote explained

  • How the migrant crisis changed Europe

Supporters of the anti-free movement plan said it would allow Switzerland to control its borders and select only the immigrants it wants.

Opponents argued it would plunge a healthy economy into recession at an uncertain time and deprive hundreds of thousands of Swiss citizens of their freedom to live and work across Europe.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe push to scrap the freedom of movement deal comes from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party

A landlocked country that has observed neutrality for centuries, Switzerland has over time veered between seeking closer engagement with the EU, and preferring a more isolationist course.

Sunday’s referendum could have forced the Swiss government to unilaterally void its free movement agreement with the EU by invoking a so-called guillotine clause.

This clause would have impacted other bilateral deals on transport, research and trade with the EU, disrupting economic activity.

What reaction has there been?

The president of the right-wing SVP, Marco Chiesa, conceded that his campaign had struggled to garner enough support for a proposal which was opposed by the government, parliament and tradio unions.

Given that opposition, Mr Chiesa framed the campaign as a “fight between David and Goliath”. “But we will continue to fight for the country and take back control of immigration,” he said.

image copyrightEPA
image captionSVP President Marco Chiesa admitted the proposal failed to gain traction

Opponents of the proposal said the result was an expression of Swiss support for open, bilateral relations with the EU. They said voters were worried about the economic cost of ending free movement during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The bilateral path is the right one for Switzerland and for the EU,” Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told reporters. “The Swiss people have confirmed this path again today”.

“Today is a great day for the relations between the European Union and Switzerland,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel. “The Swiss people have spoken & sent a clear message: together we have a great future ahead of us.”

A vote to keep a deal seen as reasonable

Analysis by Imogen Foulkes,BBC News Geneva correspondent

Swiss voters have said a convincing “no” to ending free movement of people with the EU.

The People’s Party argued that immigration from Europe was to blame for a rising population, and placed an unsustainable burden on Switzerland’s public services, and environment.

In the past, the party has done well with anti-immigration campaigns, but not this time. The economic consequences were clear.

Some 60% of Swiss exports go to Europe, for example. Moreover, half a million Swiss live and work in the EU, and 1.4 million EU citizens work in Switzerland, many in the health service.

Ending free movement would have put the entire relationship with Europe at risk.

Brussels has always told the Swiss they cannot cherry pick: no free trade without free movement. Today, Swiss voters have shown they think that deal is reasonable.

What other issues did Switzerland vote on?

A referendum on paternity leave for new fathers was among the other issues on Sunday’s ballot.

The initiative was backed by a majority of voters, heralding a major change in Switzerland, a country seen as lagging behind its European neighbours on parental leave provision.

Under the proposal, fathers will for the first time be granted two weeks of paid leave within six months of the birth of a child. They will also be entitled to receive 80% of their salary, up to a ceiling of 196 Swiss francs (£165; $210) per day.

In addition, voters narrowly approved a government plan to buy new fighter jets, and blocked a revision of Switzerland’s hunting law which would have made it easier to cull protected species such as wolves.

What are the possible consequences for Brexit?

The Swiss referendum was already being prepared before the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016.

The SVP – the biggest party in Switzerland’s parliament – has used similar arguments to Brexiteers about the benefits of having more control over immigration.

But net migration into Switzerland is actually falling at the moment, and there is a sense voters are becoming weary of the party’s anti-immigration message.

The strong vote in favour of free movement could strengthen Brussels’ hand with London, and be a signal to the UK of just what kinds of compromises might be needed to agree a free trade deal with the EU.

Timeline: Switzerland and the EU

image copyrightGetty Images

1992: Swiss vote by 50.3% to 49.7% against joining European Economic Area

1992-2002: Switzerland negotiates, then signs first bilateral agreements with EU – they are interdependent, and include free movement of people – backed by a vote in 2000

2005: Swiss vote to join Europe’s Schengen open borders treaty and extend free movement to 10 new EU states

2009: Vote to extend freedom of movement to new EU members Romania and Bulgaria

2014: Swiss narrowly back quotas on EU workers

Related Topics

  • Switzerland

  • Immigration
  • European Union
  • Global trade



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‘There’s a danger if you come from a working class background… that the establishment will absorb you’ – Diane Abbott on getting into politics


Diane Abbott has been making history and headlines throughout her career.

She was the first black woman to be elected to parliament and the first black MP to represent her party at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Now a new authorised biography details her rise from working-class roots to Labour front bencher.

And it explores the thorny issues around that crushing defeat in last December’s election.

We went to meet her in her constituency.



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Fighting Flares Between Azerbaijan and Armenia


MOSCOW — Fighting that was reported to be fierce broke out on Sunday between Azerbaijan and Armenia and quickly escalated with the two sides claiming action with artillery, helicopter and tanks along a disputed border.

The military action centered on the breakaway province of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area north of Turkey and Iran where ethnic tensions and historical grievances have made kindling for conflict for decades.

The fighting on Sunday, however, was reportedly more severe than the typical periodic border skirmishes, and both governments used military language describing the events as war. Before Sunday, the last major escalation was in 2016. Each sides accused the other of using artillery against civilians.

“The enemy has started an attack” on the Karabakh region, the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said in a post on Facebook.

Mr. Pashinyan said the military of the Karabkah region, an ethnic Armenian enclave that claims to be an independent state but is mostly unrecognized, had repelled the attack.

But the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan then issued a statement saying it had begun a “counterattack” with tanks, helicopters and rocket artillery.

In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, Azerbaijan said the military operation had destroyed “troops, military objects and equipment of the Armenian armed forces” near the border as well as deeper inside the country. It said it destroyed 12 short-range antiaircraft installations in Armenia.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said its forces had destroyed three tanks and shot down two helicopters, Reuters reported.

In past flare-ups, both sides have exaggerated their successes and the scale of their enemies’ violations of cease-fire agreements, though the potential for a wider war has always been clear. The Karabakh region maintains a system to call up nearly its entire male population as minutemen, and this mobilization was announced Sunday morning.

Fighting in and around the Karabakh region, which Armenia calls Artsakh, was among the most vicious of the early post-Soviet conflicts. A cease-fire was declared in 1994, but violence has often flared up since.

Moscow sells weapons to both sides and has also brokered cease-fire agreements. Russia has a military base in Armenia. The Armenian diaspora in France and the United States has aided the Karabakh region, including financing construction of a strategic mountain-access road.



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Is Switzerland in Europe? – Upcoming referendums will show how the Swiss may relate to the EU | Europe




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Azerbaijan, Armenia on War Footing After Casualties in Heavy Fighting


Baku and Yerevan put themselves on a war footing after heavy fighting erupted Sunday between Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists, claiming military and civilian casualties on both sides, including at least one child.

The worst clashes since 2016 have raised the spectre of a fresh war between arch enemies Azerbaijan and Armenia which have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh.

A major confrontation between the ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors would draw in big regional players Moscow and Ankara.

Russia, France, Germany and the EU swiftly urged an “immediate ceasefire,” while Pope Francis prayed for peace.

The Armenian defense ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, said intense fighting continued along the Karabakh frontline Sunday afternoon.

Azerbaijan said it had captured seven of its Armenian-controlled villages, a claim Yerevan denied.

‘Sacred homeland’

In a televised address to the nation earlier in the day, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev vowed victory over Armenian forces.

“Our cause is just and we will win,” Aliyev said, repeating a famous quote from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s address at the outbreak of World War II in Russia.

“Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” he said.  

Both Armenia and the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilization.

“Get ready to defend our sacred homeland,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook.

Armenia said earlier Sunday that Azerbaijan attacked civilian settlements in Nagorny Karabakh including the main city Stepanakert.

Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of violating a ceasefire, saying it had launched a counter-offensive to “ensure the safety of the population”, using tanks, artillery missiles, combat aviation and drones.

“There are reports of dead and wounded among civilians and military servicemen,” Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said. “Extensive damage has been inflicted on many homes and civilian infrastructure.”

Karabakh’s rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan pointed to “civilian casualties,” while Armenia said a woman and child were killed.

Russia, EU urge ceasefire 

Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the Nagorny Karabakh region from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.

Talks to resolve one of the worst conflicts to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union have been largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.

France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.

Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey blamed Yerevan for the flare-up and promised Baku its “full support”.

“We strongly condemn the attack by Armenia against Azerbaijan,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter.

Russia’s Lavrov spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Moscow said, stressing “the need to halt fire as soon as possible”.

The two discussed “Armenia’s aggression”, a Turkish diplomatic source said.

Pope Francis told crowds on Saint Peter’s Square he was praying for peace and called for “concrete gestures of good will and fraternity” from the warring sides.

Political observers said global powers should intensify talks to stop the conflict.

“We are a step away from a large-scale war,” Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“One of the main reasons for the current escalation is a lack of any proactive international mediation between the sides for weeks,” she added.

“War is resuming. Time for Russia, France and U.S, individually and jointly, to stop it,” tweeted Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

‘Turkish mercenaries’ –

Karabakh separatist leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, accused Ankara of sending mercenaries to Azerbaijan.

“We have information that mercenaries from Turkey and other countries were airlifted to Azerbaijan,” he said.

“The Turkish army is already in Azerbaijan, under the guise of military drills,” he claimed.

On Sunday morning, Azerbaijan started “active bombing” along Karabakh’s frontline including civilian targets and in the main city Stepanakert, Karabakh’s presidency said.

The rebel defense ministry said its troops shot down four Azerbaijani helicopters and 15 drones, while Baku denied the claims.

On Friday, Aliyev accused Armenia of undermining Karabakh peace talks.

In July, heavy clashes along the two countries’ shared border hundreds of kilometres from Karabakh claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers from both sides.

Raising the stakes, Azerbaijan at the time threatened to strike Armenia’s atomic power station if Yerevan attacked strategic facilities.

During the worst recent clashes in April 2016, around 110 people were killed.



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Premier League giants must step up to help struggling smaller clubs, says Tory minister


Premier League giants should help struggling lower-league clubs battling to survive the coronavirus pandemic, a top Government minister has said.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden urged cash-soaked sides to pump emergency funds into less well-off clubs.

Some fear they could go out of business as ongoing Covid-19 restrictions mean they cannot admit fans – denying them vital ticket receipts, bar takings and snacks’ sales.

Many also rely on hosting hospitality and conference events, which are also banned amid the ongoing fight against the disease.

Mr Dowden told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “First of all we need to look to the Premier League.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Premier League giants need to help struggling lower-tier clubs

“I’ve been touch with the Premier League a lot over the past few days, they’re working closely with the EFL (English Football League) to see how they can support them.

“The Prime Minister and I have been clear, the Premier League needs to start by looking after the football family as a whole and indeed they’re having productive conversations and I’m hopeful that they’ll reach a deal this coming week in relation to that.”

It is understood a rescue package could be unveiled as early as Tuesday.

Plans to allow limited numbers of supporters back into grounds were shelved last week as infection rates soared.

Clubs fear it could be six months before fans can return.

Mr Dowden said: “It simply is not possible against this backdrop of rising infections, and I think if we went ahead against this backdrop of rising infections there will be real concern from spectators and indeed from the general public thinking, ‘Why are we doing this at this stage?’”

He added: “We keep this constantly under review.

“At this time of rapidly rising infections we didn’t feel that this was the right time.

“If we start to get this under control of course we’ll continue to review it.

“We are working for example with the clubs, with medical advisers to see what kind of further innovations we can introduce to further decrease the risk.”





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Armenia declares martial law after clashes with Azerbaijan – POLITICO


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Both sides report casualties after clashes in disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia on Sunday declared martial law and mobilized its military after clashes with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s prime minister, wrote on Twitter: “At the decision of the Government, martial law and general mobilization is being declared in the Republic of #Armenia. I call on the personnel attached to the troops to present themselves to their district commissariats. For the fatherland, for victory.”

Armenia said that Azerbaijan had carried out an air and artillery attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said Azerbaijan had “launched aggression … targeting civilian population, shelling [the city of] Stepanakert and surrounding areas.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Armenian troops “fired on our settlements, as well as our military positions,” the state news agency reported. He added that the Azerbaijani army “is currently firing on the enemy’s military positions, and as a result of these strikes, many units of the enemy’s military equipment have been destroyed.”

Both sides reported casualties.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on social media that Turkey “stands by its Azerbaijani brothers with all its means” and called Armenia “the biggest threat to peace and tranquillity in the region.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry called for an immediate ceasefire, the BBC reported.

European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter that the reports of violence “are of most serious concern. Military action must stop, as a matter of urgency, to prevent a further escalation. An immediate return to negotiations, without preconditions, is the only way forward.” The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that the bloc “calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and for strict observance of the ceasefire.”

Armenia and Azerbaijan have long clashed over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian territory that is officially part of Azerbaijan. The two countries fought a six-year war over the region until a ceasefire in 1994.





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Azerbaijan, Armenia, trade blows over Nagorno-Karabakh


Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out Sunday around the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Defense Ministry said two Azerbaijani helicopters were shot down.

Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan also said Armenian forces hit three Azerbaijani tanks.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that has been out of Azerbaijan’s control since the end of a war in 1994. Both sides have heavy military presence along a demilitarized zone separating the region from the rest of Azerbaijan.

Stepanyan said the fighting Sunday began with an Azerbaijani attack, but Azerbaijan said the Armenian side attacked and that Azerbaijan launched a counteroffensive.

The news was harshly received in Turkey.

Turkey’s ruling party spokesman Omer Celik tweeted: “We vehemently condemn Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan. Armenia has once against committed a provocation, ignoring law.” He promised Turkey would stand by Azerbaijan and said, “Armenia is playing with fire and endangering regional peace.”

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also took to Twitter, condemning Armenia. “Armenia has violated the ceasefire by attacking civilian settlements … the international community must immediately say stop to this dangerous provocation.”



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Motorway crashes: Parts of M11 and M1 closed after collisions leave two seriously injured | UK News



Parts of two motorways have been closed following crashes that left two people badly injured.

The collisions happened on the M11 in Essex and M1 in Leicestershire late on Saturday night.

On the M11, a woman suffered potentially life-threatening injuries in a smash involving four cars on the southbound carriageway near Harlow at about 10.10pm on Saturday.

An Audi, BMW and Volkswagen Passat were involved in the crash, along with a fourth vehicle which police say failed to stop at the scene. A description of the vehicle has not been given.

Essex Police said they expected the southbound carriageway between junction eight for Stansted and junction seven for Harlow will “remain shut into Sunday morning so please avoid the area and plan your journey”.

The force said: “We need to speak to anyone who saw the collision or has dash cam of it.

“In particular we need to speak to anyone who saw how an Audi and another vehicle were being driven and interacted with each other in the moments before the collision.”

Meanwhile, the M1 in Leicestershire was closed at junction 23 near Loughborough in both directions after a crash just before 11.20pm on the northbound carriageway.

A rear passenger in a Range Rover has been left in a critical condition following the collision, which also involved a black Audi RS4.

The Range Rover driver and a front passenger were also wounded but their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening, police said. The Audi driver was not hurt.

A 37-year-old man is in custody after being arrested on suspicion of drink driving and driving offences.

Leicestershire Police said diversions were in place and the motorway was “likely to remain closed for some time”.

Anyone with dash camera footage or information about the collision in Essex is asked to contact police on 101 and quote incident 1337.

Officers in Leicestershire have asked for anyone with footage or information to phone 101 and quote incident 743 of 26 September.

Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously.



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