Swiss vote yes to workers from Romania and Bulgaria

Other News Materials 8 February 2009 19:55 (UTC +04:00)

The Swiss voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the free movement of workers from the EU to include the bloc's two newest members, Romania and Bulgaria, in a referendum on Sunday, dpa reported.

According to official figures, 59.6 per cent of voters said yes to the plan, which renews an existing deal with 25 EU member states, and adds Romania and Bulgaria.

The motion had the backing of both business and government in Switzerland, which is not itself a member of the European Union. The referendum was forced by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).

They claimed extending the agreement to include Romania and Bulgaria would lead to job losses for Swiss workers, higher taxes and a rise in crime.

The "yes" vote was actually 4 per cent higher than the last time such a referendum was held, in September 2005, when the EU was extended from 15 to 25 members - inviting in 10 mostly former communist states.

A "no" vote would have severely strained Switzerland's relations with the EU. Brussels does not permit discrimination between its 27 member states.

"This reinforces our bilateral relationship," the Swiss Economic Minister Doris Leuthard said after the surprisingly strong result.

The referendum came in the midst of the global economic crisis, which has hit Switzerland, though not nearly as hard as other European nations.

Unemployment has risen, but is still very low in comparison to most other countries, and stand at just over 3 per cent.

The SVP had produced posters depicting three aggressive looking black crows pecking away at a map of Switzerland. A previous election poster notoriously showed three white sheep kicking a black one out of the country.