* Referendum was initiated by right-wing SVP party
* Swiss business says vote creates toxic uncertainty
* Large neighbour Germany sees "considerable problems"
By Katharina Bart
ZURICH, Feb 10 European partners threatened on
Monday to review their relations with Switzerland after voters
in the Alpine nation narrowly backed a proposal to curtail
immigration from the EU in a referendum that has also unsettled
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius described the vote,
initiated by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and
opposed by the government in Berne, as a "worrying" move that
showed Switzerland was withdrawing into itself.
"We're going to review our relations with Switzerland,"
Fabius told RTL radio.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said that while Berlin
respected the result, it would create "considerable problems"
for Switzerland's relationship with the EU. The European
Commission said it went against the principle of free movement
between the Alpine nation and the EU that has existed for over a
"The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on
EU-Swiss relations as a whole," the Commission said.
Switzerland is not a member of the 28-nation EU, but a pact
with Brussels has ensured the free movement of citizens to and
from the bloc since 2002.
The vote to reintroduce immigration quotas, backed by a
razor-thin margin of 19,526 voters on Sunday, threatens that
pact, and with it a key pillar of the Swiss economy, which
relies on the EU for nearly one-fifth of its workforce.
Switzerland is home to food and beverage giant Nestle,
drugmakers Novartis and Roche, as well as a host of major
commodities dealers such as Glencore Xtrata and Louis Dreyfus
"What's the point of investing in Switzerland, when in the
end it's not certain whether you can get qualified staff to
carry out your plans," Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss
Employers Association, told the NZZ newspaper.
He said the vote created toxic uncertainty for Swiss
businesses, which already face pressure amid a foreign crackdown
on banking secrecy and an outcry over the favorable tax rates
some Swiss cantons offers to multinationals.
Swiss banks including and Credit Suisse are especially
dependent on the flow of foreign workers, employing up to 25
percent of overall staff from the EU.
"We fear that the pool of available workers will dwindle,"
said Sindy Schmiegel of the Swiss Banking Association. "It could
become much more difficult for banks to meet their staffing
Although the Swiss government had urged voters to reject the
introduction of EU immigration quotas, it is now obliged to
write the results of the referendum into law. It will have a
degree of flexibility as the referendum did not set specific
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said on Sunday that the
government planned to draft a law by the autumn, before
approaching the EU with its plans.
Anger among parties that had opposed the vote was palpable
on Monday, with the Swiss Liberal Democrats suggesting that
Christoph Blocher, the billionaire industrialist and SVP
lawmaker who poured his own money into the quota campaign, be
sent to Brussels himself to explain the vote.
"He has an obligation to find a good solution, together with
the other parties," the FDP said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Caroline Copley and Oliver Hirt in
Zurich, Michelle Martin and Stephen Brown in Berlin, Alexandria
Sage in Paris,; Editing by Noah Barkin)