Switzerland, cozily situated in the Alps, is a notoriously isolated country, yet with the passage of a series of immigration laws this weekend, the international community turned its stern eye toward the country.
The Swiss law was passed in large part because of the assistance of the far-right Swiss People’s Party. This law, under the guise of preserving Swiss identity amid growing immigration, would limit immigration from other European countries to Switzerland.
The immigration law was in response to the Swiss-EU free movement deal signed by referendum in 2000. The 2000 law allowed the free movement of workers and people between the EU and Switzerland.
However, all that is about to change. With approval of 50.3 percent of the vote, the new Swiss immigration policy will end the nearly 14-year agreement for the migration of workers between the country and the EU.
This emergence of far-right, nationalist and xenophobic policies are far from unique to the Swiss but rather are merely a byproduct of the continental conservative tilt Europe has been undergoing for the past few years.
One must only look at Britain, Greece or Hungary to understand the conservatism that has been affecting and challenging core ideological principles, such as free movement, of the EU.
This will, without a doubt, pose economic problems between Switzerland and the EU’s single market as the benefits of economic movement and trade are considered just as important and foundational to the EU as the free movement of its people.
The implications for this deal are tremendous within the EU but are indicative of issues the U.S. is facing as well.
As economic fortunes once again begin to lift economies all over the developed world, there is a moral dilemma being presented as whether to limit or allow free movement of laborers.
This dilemma is being heard in countries all over Europe, but it’s the same problem the U.S.’s own fiery rhetoric and stratified political atmosphere have been grappling with for decades.
It’s important to note that the issues of maintaining national identity or of preserving the economic possibilities for members of a particular nationality are generic and typical of anti-immigration policy advocates around the world.
Yet these arguments must be diminished and set aside for the ultimately faulty logic they present. The world economy, in a globalized age, is no longer prejudicial nor cognizant of the arbitrary national boundaries that some hold so dear.
The multinational, globalized production process have nullified the isolationist argument. Yet the continual presence of this desire speaks to a far more resounding issue of xenophobia and a strong desire for cultural continuity.
While countries such as Switzerland and the U.S. stress assimilation for immigrants or cultivate fear among their population about a supposed diminishing national identity, what one critical of these issues must bring to the forefront are two things.
First, to dismiss this argument is the very malleable nature of culture and identity. One is not merely born with a culture or with an identity; these are constructed and formed over the course of a lifetime and through the span of generations. They are not some reverent, guiding principle to adhere to, but rather a living — albeit intangible — organization characterized by its plasticity.
Second, attempting to preserve one identity over the threat of an “other identity” establishes an hierarchy between the two, lending the artificially considered superior identity toward participating in racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
Ultimately, the economic cycle appears to bring with it an increased fear and concern regarding the prosperity of any particular nation’s citizenry. Yet, it’s imperative that those born in the developed bear in mind that there is not some mythic “other” seeking to destabilize or rob people of their jobs, but rather a collection of people, all of whom wish merely for economic or political opportunity. That’s an ambition the whole world should be able to get behind.
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