World News

Swiss campaigners push for vote to overturn immigration referendum

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss campaigners said on Tuesday they had gathered enough signatures to force a referendum that aims to overturn a 2014 vote in favor of quotas on immigration from the European Union.

The February 2014 vote -- spearheaded by the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) -- has jeopardized a host of other Swiss/EU treaties governing bilateral economic ties which stand or fall together.

Business leaders, politicians and workers worry that Bern will fail to reach an accord with Brussels to protect the pacts, which are seen as crucial to the export-reliant Swiss economy.

In an effort to protect the agreements, a civil campaign called Raus aus der Sackgasse (RASA) -- “Out of the impasse” -- has gathered 130,000 signatures in just eight months to force a vote on overturning the immigration referendum.

Swiss citizens can force a national vote on an issue by gathering 100,000 signatures in support within 18 months as part of its system of direct democracy. It can take years to hold such a referendum once the signatures are verified.

“The RASA initiative considers itself ‘plan B’ in the event that the government and parliament are unable to work out in time an implementation framework for the mass immigration vote that does not endanger the treaties,” the campaign said.

Swiss lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile the referendum result with the EU pact, otherwise the government must write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.

The 2014 vote violates an agreement guaranteeing the free movement of workers between the EU and Switzerland, which is not a member of the bloc.

Roland Buechel, an SVP member of parliament, told SRF Television that RASA had a right to seek another vote but he complained that voters had already decided the issue and that the campaign weakened Bern’s negotiating position.

The SVP won the biggest share of the vote in this month’s parliamentary election, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on EU immigrants.

Editing by Alison Williams