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Switzerland

Swiss vote to stem immigration could cause 'a lot of problems'

Switzerland's neighbors and the EU say they regret the country's narrow vote to limit annual migration inflows. Veteran German politician Wolfgang Schäuble warns of "a lot of problems" for the Swiss government in Bern.

EU in a panic after Swiss immigration vote

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany respected the result of Switzerland's vote. However, he added, it "raises considerable problems," and said that Merkel had repeatedly stated free movement was a "prized asset" for Germany.

The European Commission said in a statement released after the referendum that it regretted the decision, and would "analyze the consequences of this initiative to our relations in general."

Despite voicing regret about the result, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned against ignoring the sentiment expressed.

"Of course this does show a little that people are increasingly uneasy about unlimited freedom of movement in this world of globalization. I believe we must take this seriously," Schäuble said on ARD public television. "We regret this decision. It will cause a lot of problems for Switzerland."

Germany's center-left Social Democrats were more critical, with one of the party's deputy chairpersons Ralf Stegner writing: "They're crazy, the Swiss," on Twitter shortly after the result, before clarifying that he was referring only to the results of Sunday's referendum.

Other parties fear 'an isolated Switzerland'

Switzerland's most powerful party, the nationalist-conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP), had put forward the proposal - which was not supported by Switzerland's other major parties.

"The referendum must be respected," Swiss Christian Democrat (CVP) party leader Christophe Darbellay told the German-lanugauge daily Blick on Monday. "The upper house of parliament must now find a solution, by which immigration can be curbed and our bilateral path can simultaneously be saved. An isolated Switzerland in the middle of Europe would be fatal."

Landlocked Switzerland, which is surrounded by EU member states, is not a member of the European Union. However, it is part of the both the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the open-border Schengen Area. Business leaders in Switzerland had openly opposed the SVP initiative, saying the buoyant economy could support a larger workforce.

'Details' still up for discussion

The SVP's proposal had specified neither the potential level for a cap, nor who it might apply to. "The details must now be regulated at the legislative level," as the Swiss government website put it. By Swiss law, parliamentarians have three years to introduce the changes.

With a turnout of just over 2.9 million people (55.8 percent), the winning margin for the "yes" campaign on the SVP's "stop mass-immigration" initiative was less than 20,000 votes. Major cities like Basel, Geneva and Zurich - although not Bern - rejected the proposal, which gathered more support in more rural regions.

About Switzerland: Interview with Geoff Meade in Brussels

Around one quarter of Switzerland's roughly 8 million inhabitants hail from other countries. Numbering almost 300,000, Germans are the second-best represented nationality after Italians. Similarly, some 430,000 Swiss live and work elsewhere in the EU.

Under the country's system of direct democracy, any petition that receives 100,000 signatures must be put to a referendum. The country has held public polls in recent years on topics including a ban on minarets on Swiss mosques, gun control, allowing shareholders to cap executive salaries at publicly-traded companies, providing abused animals with lawyers and a public smoking ban.

Also on Sunday, the Swiss approved a proposal to change and expand state funding of the country's national rail network, while rejecting a bid to overturn the result a 2002 referendum, which had made abortions a procedure covered by standard health insurance packages. Both votes were decided by large margins.

msh/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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