Feb.10 - Voters in Switzerland have backed proposals that restrict the movement of citizens to and from the EU and could undermine bilateral agreements with its neighbours. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already described the referendum result as 'worrying'. Joanna Partridge reports.
Could Europe be about to reconsider its relationship with Switzerland? That's certainly the threat being made by the Alpine nation's EU partners, the day after Swiss voters narrowly backed a proposal by a right-wing party to reduce immigration from the EU. The verdict was described as worrying by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. SOUNDBITE: Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister, saying (French): "It means that Switzerland wants to withdraw into itself. It's partly a current trend, but it's also paradoxical, because 60% of Switzerland's external trade is with the European Union and it lives very largely off the EU." But it's had a pact with Brussels ensuring the free movement of citizens to and from the bloc for over a decade. The country has always gone its own way, says Mike Gallagher from Ideaglobal. SOUNDBITE: Mike Gallagher, Managing Director, Ideaglobal, saying (English): "The Swiss have previously shown that they can sort of take their own stance, that's why they're not in the EU. I think that the EU and Switzerland will work something out." However Switzerland relies on the EU for one-fith of its workforce - and it's the destination for half its exports. The vote also means uncertainty for Swiss businesses. Its banks - such as UBS and Credit Suisse - are especially dependent on foreign workers. And lenders are already under pressure due to a crackdown on banking secrecy. There are greater concerns outside the country, in Brussels - voiced by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. SOUNDBITE: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister, saying (German): "Switzerland must realise that cherry picking with the EU is not a long-term strategy. We want fair relations with a non-EU member such as Switzerland. That means you have to accept advantages along with burdens or disadvantages." This all comes at a time EU members are looking to renegotiate their relationships, says Edward Hadas from Reuters Breakingviews. SOUNDBITE: Edward Hadas, Economics Editor, Reuters Breakingviews, saying (English): "At the same time you have this resistance in the UK and the Netherlands, a little bit in other countries, Finland, and if the Swiss get away with this, then those anti-solidarity parties are going to get more strength, they are going to be reinforced, and the efforts to make northern Europeans see southern Europeans as part of the region that we have to support when they're in trouble are going to be that much harder I think, impossible." The Swiss government had called on voters to reject the introduction of immigration quotas. But it now has to write the referendum result in law. It has some flexibility in this - as the referendum didn't specify the quotas.