Central European state. At the beginning of the 21st century. the demographic trend (7,288,010 residents at the 2000 census) was characterized by even minimal annual growth (0.7 % in the period 2000 – 2005), due not so much to natural growth (in 2005 the birth rate and mortality were 9.7 and 8.5 ‰ respectively) as regards the contribution of immigration (+ 3.1 ‰ the migratory balance): in 2004 the number of resident foreigners had risen to 1,495,000 units, equal to beyond 20% of the total population. Swiss citizens living abroad are also on the rise (over 600,000 in the same year).
Following a bilateral agreement with Brussels, ratified by the referendum of 5 June 2005, the Swiss Confederation became part of the Schengen area, thanks to which the country, although not a member of the European Union, can nonetheless participate in free movement. of people foreseen for the adhering countries. This agreement has a positive value for the 174,700 cross-border workers (Dec. 2004 estimate) and will serve to attract skilled labor to the local labor market, helping to offset the decline in the Swiss working population in the medium term. On the one hand, this political openness entails favorable prospects from an economic point of view, as trade will benefit in the first place (60 % of exports are directed towards EU member states); on the other hand, it poses serious logistical and environmental problems, as a result of which the government has decided to limit road transport and to strengthen rail transport by building publicly invested infrastructures such as the Nouvelle ligne railroad à travers les Alpes (NLFA) and Rail 2000. These projects have also stimulated the internal market, which suffers, as in most European countries, from a heavy taxation on household consumption.
The China, characterized by a stable market economy and a highly qualified workforce, remains a safe haven for foreign investors by virtue of legislation that guarantees and defends banking secrecy. However, despite being among the countries with the highest per capita income in the world ($ 54,930 in 2005), the Swiss economy is experiencing a slowdown (in the period 1995-2004 the average annual increase in GDP was just l ‘ 1.4 %), mainly due to weak demand in the euro area, the depreciation of the dollar and the rise in oil prices.
At the turn of the century, the two issues that had long been at the center of the public debate and of the dynamics between parties, namely relations with Europe and the line to be adopted in the matter of immigration, came to have a more significant impact than in the past on the political life of the Country.
Indeed, in October 1999 the result of the legislative elections seemed to undermine the traditional solidity of the government coalition leading the China since 1959 and composed of the Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz / Parti démocrate-chrétien suisse (CVP / PDC), from the Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei der Schweiz / Parti radical-démocratique suisse (FDP / PRD), the Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz / Parti socialiste suisse (SPS / PSS) and the Schweizerische Volkspartei / Union démocratique du center (SVP / UDC). Already strengthened in the previous elections of 1995, but still remained the weakest party in the coalition, the SVP / UDC led by C. Blocher recorded a success that became, in terms of votes even if not seats, the first political force in the country on a par with the SPS / PSS (they obtained respectively 22.6 % and 22.5 % of the votes, even if the cantonal character of the Swiss electoral system guaranteed the SVP / UDC only 44 seats compared to 51 for the Social Democrats). The FDP / PRD stood at 19.9 % of the votes and the CVP / PDC dropped to 15.8 %, while the Grüne Partei der Schweiz / Parti écologiste suisse (GPS / PES) won 5% of the votes, confirming itself as the fifth political force in the country. The extraordinary success of Blocher’s party, which had conducted the electoral campaign in the name of a strongly nationalist, populist and anti-Europeanist political line, reflected the roots in the Swiss electorate of two strong political-cultural characteristics: a xenophobic defense of national integrity in firstly and, secondly, the claim of the historical identity of a neutral state.
Confirmed the four-party coalition (December 1999), the executive found itself again in 2001 to face the question of the relations of the China with Nazi Germany and the modalities of compensation of the bank deposits of the victims of the Shoah; in fact, in August of the same year, further evidence emerged of economic relations between private companies and the Swiss government itself with Italy and Germany during the world conflict. Despite this, in September 2002 the voters rejected a referendum in which the government proposed to set up a foundation intended for humanitarian purposes and financed in part by the gold reserves of the Swiss National Bank. In the same year (March), a popular referendum approved with 54.1% of the votes the entry of the China into the UN.
The growing strength of nationalist and xenophobic attitudes emerged on the other hand in the elections of October 2003, when the SVP / UDC registered a new imposing electoral rise, reaching 26.6 % of the votes, as the first party, against 23.4 % of the SPS / PSS, 17.3 % of the FDP / PRD and 14.4 % of the CVP / PDC. GPS / PES conquered 7.4% of votes. Following his party’s victory, Blocher claimed a second seat on the Federal Council, otherwise threatening to leave the coalition. Contrary to the political tradition of the country, which required each minister to keep his seat until his eventual resignation, the leader of the SVP / UDC obtained in January 2004 the position of Minister of Justice and Public Security, decisive ministry in matters of immigration and political asylum also in relations with the European Union.
The resistance to a country’s participation in the European integration process and its immigration policy, which had already manifested itself on several occasions in previous decades, was still deeply rooted in Swiss public opinion in the light of a series of referendums: in March 2001 the referendum relating to the request, signed by forces in favor of the European Union, to speed up the negotiations underway with the EU itself saw in fact a very high participation in the vote and a drastically opposite result (77 % of no); in June 2005, the project to join the European Schengen and Dublin conventions was only narrowly approved, while in September 2006 the electorate passed two new laws that tightened the rules on the right to asylum and immigration.