Inspired by Switzerland’s immigration vote, which has infuriated the European Union, one of Norway’s ruling parties is calling for the country to hold its own referendum on limiting immigration from the EU.
On Sunday, Switzerland voted 50.3 percent in favor of re-introducing strict quotas for immigrants from the EU, thus scrapping the policy of free movement within the 28-nation bloc.
The surprise choice sent shockwaves across Europe, with Brussels threatening to reconsider its relations with Switzerland and anti-immigration activists applauding the result.
“I won't take a stance on such a quota system that the Swiss people have voted for. But the idea of a referendum is interesting, and Norway also should have a referendum on immigration,” said Mazyar Keshvari, immigration spokesman for the Progress Party (FrP), which is part of Norway’s Conservative-led government.
“I am quite sure that there is majority support for tightening immigration across Norway's political parties. The polls show that,” he told VG newspaper.
Keshvari is himself a second-generation immigrant. The 32-year-old politician comes from an Iranian family who took refuge in Norway in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution when he was a child.
Although the Swiss poll prompted calls for similar immigration-curbing measures from far-right movements across Europe, Norway has become the first nation where a government party has expressed its support for the idea.
However, Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister of EEA (European Economic Area) and EU Affairs expressed concern about the Swiss vote.
“This will create problems for the Swiss business sector and the economy, which have benefited greatly from labor immigration from the EEA, as has Norway. It will be interesting to see what consequences this has for Switzerland’s relations with the EU,” Helgesen said in a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
“The Swiss people have expressed their disagreement with their government on an important aspect of Switzerland’s relations with other countries. Norway would like to emphasize the importance of free movement of persons for growth and prosperity in an open economy,” said Helgesen, a politician for center-right Conservative Party, which leads the ruling two-party coalition.
Keshvari, of the Progress Party, argued that EEA migration was not that beneficial.
“Lithuanians and Poles who come and seek employment in Norway gladly bring their family here when they discover anything they can get for free by residing here, including free healthcare and social security benefits,” VG quoted Keshvari as saying.
The FrP party has repeatedly said that Norway should study the EEA Agreement and use whatever room for maneuver there is to limit immigration, Keshvari said.
Conservatives and the FrP government are now reportedly in tough negotiations with the Liberals and Christian Democrats on measures to limit immigration to Norway.
A referendum on immigration policies has not been a subject of these talks, according to Geir Bekkevold from the Christian Democratic Party (KrF), which opposes the very idea of holding such a vote.
Bekkevold said that EEA migration is good for Norway’s economy, since people who come to the country to work pay taxes, he told VG.