Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsWe have heard at an earlier stage of our course that the free movement of persons is a core element of the European Union's internal market. As you can see on this chart, in legal terms, the free movement of persons consists of to subcategories, namely, free movement for workers and freedom of establishment. As its name indicates, free movement for workers relates only to natural persons, that is, human beings, like you and me. In contrast, freedom of establishment relates to both natural and legal persons. The latter are companies and firms who wish to engage in an economic activity in another state on a permanent-- that is, not merely temporary or occasional-- basis.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 secondAs for natural persons, they can benefit from the freedom of establishment in order to be permanently active in another Member State in a self-employed capacity. In our course, we will focus on the free movement of natural persons. It essentially means that nationals of an EU Member State are free to look for and take up employment or self-employment in another EU Member State, just like the nationals of the host state. Notably, no quantitative limits are allowed with respect to such persons. Free movement of persons has been extended beyond the EU to certain non-Member States. Namely, fully to Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway through the EEA Agreement, and partially to Switzerland, notably through the Swiss EU agreement on the free movement of persons.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsFor Switzerland, this meant that for persons falling under this agreement, there was now a much easier regime for moving to the country than for other persons, for whom there were and still are quantitative limits. Whilst the regime of free movement appeared to be largely accepted for quite some time, more recently, increasing criticism was raised against it, both in and outside the EU. In the Swiss Federal Parliament, the Swiss People's Party, SPP, in the year 2011, submitted a parliamentary initiative in order to change the federal constitution. The title of this initiative was ‘Stop Mass Immigration.’ Its aim was to introduce the principle of autonomous control of immigration through a combination of quantitative limits and national preference.

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 secondsWhen the parliament did not decide in favour, the Swiss People's Party decided to launch a popular initiative instead on the same issue. This time, the party was successful. First, it succeeded in collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures and then in convincing the people of the merits of the initiative. On the ninth of February 2014, the people voted in favour, with a very thin majority. Namely, 50.3% out of 56.57% who participated in the vote. Which was, however, supported by a very clear majority of the cantons. Remember that acceptance of a popular initiative requires a double majority, both of the people and of the cantons.

Skip to 3 minutes and 57 secondsThe arguments used by the SPP were essentially that an increase in the population of 80,000 persons per year through immigration is not sustainable for a country with about 8 million inhabitants. But rather puts pressure on infrastructure, land use, schools, and so forth. According to this party, Switzerland cannot cope with such growth, neither in terms of quantity nor in terms of culture. The party set up a website to communicate its arguments. There, you can find pictures asserting rather plainly that because of immigration, additional need arises everywhere. Switzerland shall need more teachers, hospital beds, houses, and energy plants.

Skip to 4 minutes and 48 secondsThe website of the initiative also shows that one major point was to get rid of the system of free movement, as set up by the Swiss-EU Agreement, since a large number of the persons moving to Switzerland do so in the framework of this agreement. The party assumed that the EU would agree to changing the agreement along the lines of the initiative, and it said that it would not be necessary for Switzerland to denounce the agreement following the vote. Up north, in the UK, Prime Minister Cameron used very similar arguments as the SPP in Switzerland. He pointed to the scale of immigration into Britain, namely, some 300,000 persons per year.

Skip to 5 minutes and 36 secondsHe argued that this is not sustainable for a country with a population of about 65 million inhabitants, and he warned of pressure on schools, hospitals, and other public services. Initially, the prime minister advocated quantitative limits to immigration under EU law, but changed course when it became clear that the EU would not accept changes to the very foundations of the system of free movement. The prime minister now stated that he supported the principle of free movement as a key part of the EU's internal market, and he demanded that the EU find ways to allow Member States to make changes to their social security systems that helped them to deal with this issue.

Skip to 6 minutes and 26 secondsIn November 2015, Prime Minister Cameron sent a letter with his demands to the president of the European Council, the top political institution of the EU. Migration is one of the issues addressed. In February 2016, the government of the UK and the other EU Member States agreed on a number of measures to accommodate the UK and the EU. Entry into force of these measures was made to depend on the UK's decision to remain part of the EU. The vote took place on the 23rd of June, 2016.

Critique of the system of free movement

Criticism has been levelled at the system of free movement of persons both inside and outside the European Union (EU).

For quite some time, the regime of free movement of persons appeared to be largely accepted in Europe. However, more recently increasing criticism has been raised against it both in and outside the EU. In Switzerland, this led to a popular initiative against ‘mass immigration’. The arguments used by the initiative are very similar to those used in the United Kingdom in the immigration debate.

You may also read the articles in the ‘see also’ section for further information.

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This video is from the free online course:

Switzerland in Europe: Money, Migration and Other Difficult Matters

University of Basel