Immigration Debate in Switzerland Politician Sparks Uproar with Call to Limit German Workers

A right-wing populist politician in Switzerland has prompted outrage by calling for limits on German jobseekers, saying on a television talk show that there were "too many Germans" in her country. The remarks have been slammed as "cheap grandstanding," but Natalie Rickli insists that many Swiss agree with her.
Swiss parliamentarian Natalie Rickli (2009 photo): "We really have too many Germans in the country."

Swiss parliamentarian Natalie Rickli (2009 photo): "We really have too many Germans in the country."

Foto: ? Ruben Sprich / Reuters/ REUTERS

A Swiss politician has prompted a heated debate after suggesting that there are too many German immigrants in her country. "We really have too many Germans in the country," Natalie Rickli, a member of Switzerland's parliament with the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP), said during a television talk show on Sunday.

The actual topic of discussion on the talk show, broadcast on Zürich local television station TeleZüri, was supposed to be Switzerland's decision last week to curb immigration from eight central and eastern European countries. Last Wednesday, the Swiss cabinet, the Federal Council, announced it had decided to invoke the so-called "safeguard clause" in its agreement with the European Union on the free movement of persons. The move will significantly reduce the number of jobseekers from these countries allowed to enter Switzerland for a one-year period.

But that initiative apparently does not go far enough for Rickli. On the talk show, she argued that the safeguard clause should also apply to Germans. Many people shared her view that there were "too many Germans" in Switzerland, she said.

The other guests on the show reacted with shock, but Rickli kept going. "The parliament should have already activated the safeguard clause in 2009, when it would have also affected the Germans," she said, adding that Switzerland had a problem with the sheer scale of immigration. She said that she had already received a lot of mail from Swiss people saying that they had lost their jobs because cheaper Germans had been hired instead.

Rickli's comments reflect her SVP party's anti-EU and anti-immigration policies. Although it suffered a slight drop in support in the most recent election,  the SVP has risen to become the strongest party in Switzerland since the 1990s. On the day after her talk show appearance, Rickli said that she had gotten many positive reactions to her proposal.

There are around 200,000 Germans living in Switzerland, where the unemployment rate is currently at 3 percent. The country has a total population of 7.6 million. Many Germans in Switzerland work in service sector jobs, attracted by higher wages than they would earn at home.

'Cheap Grandstanding'

The remarks have prompted an outraged reaction both in Switzerland and Germany. Swiss politician Urs Schwaller, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic People's Party, called Rickli's comments "cheap grandstanding." The SVP politician was "trying to jump on a bandwagon and get as much attention as possible," he told the Basler Zeitung newspaper.

"The Germans who work here do their jobs very well," said Swiss Green Liberal Party politician Martin Bäumle in remarks to the German news station N24. "We need them, especially in the health sector."

Roger Schawinski, the Swiss former head of the German television network Sat.1, criticized Rickli's remarks in comments to the German magazine Focus. "Ms. Rickli has often played to the gallery with dumb comments," Schawinski said. He put the attack down to "envy" that many top jobs in Switzerland are held by Germans.

'Populist Blabbering'

Rickli's remarks have also prompted heated discussions on newspaper online forums in Switzerland and Germany. "It's a shame that there still has to be so much beating up on each other in Europe," wrote reader Achim Spangenberg in an online forum of Blick, the leading Swiss tabloid newspaper. "It's shady populism. But, of course, it seems to have become socially acceptable everywhere."

"With her purely populist blabbering, Ms Rickli is a disgrace to Switzerland and to her party, as well," another reader, Roland Meier, wrote. "She should pursue important political issues instead of making us look ridiculous abroad in this way."

Other commentators on the Blick forum defended Rickli's position. "I was recently driving on the autobahn (…) and passed a construction site. It was just German companies and workers! And the Swiss just sit at home without any work and would happily have this job," wrote reader Randy Tomlinson.

Another commentator, using the tag "Keller Mike," wrote: "The whole thing has nothing to do with hatred for Germany or the like." He added, in a reference to a Spanish island that is popular with German holidaymakers, and where these vacationers sometimes have a reputation for getting a little carried away in their merrymaking: "Many people don't want a second Mallorca in Zürich -- that's all."

Ongoing Tensions

Rickli, 35, has enjoyed a skyrocketing political career since being elected to parliament five years ago. The liberal Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung once described Rickli as "the most dangerous woman in the SVP." Political observers have characterized her as smart, hard-working and tough.

The verbal attack comes at a time of mutual tensions between Germany and Switzerland over a controversial bilateral tax treaty  which is aimed at cracking down on wealthy Germans who commit tax evasion by stashing their money in Swiss banks. German politicians reacted angrily  to Switzerland's recent decision to issue arrest warrants against three German tax officials who bought a stolen CD with tax data. At the time, many Germans believed that the move was an attempt to influence the ongoing negotiations over the tax treaty. Many Swiss, however, resent what they see as Germany's attack on their country's banking secrecy laws.

But some Swiss, at least, reacted to Rickli's outburst with humor. One commentator posting on the Blick forum on Tuesday wrote: "I would gladly trade one SVP member for two Germans. No joke!"

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