This week, Karin Keller-Sutter, Switzerland’s minister of police and justice, warned a gathering of EU ministers that Switzerland could be forced to leave the Schengen zone if a referendum scheduled for 15 May 2022 is successful, reported RTS.
The Schengen zone, which now includes 28 states and allows passport-free movement across much of western Europe, was created in 1995. Switzerland has been part of it since 12 December 2008.
As a member of the zone, Switzerland has been funding an organisation known as Frontex since 2009. Frontex is an agency tasked with controlling the borders of the Schengen zone.
The agency is controversial. While some claim it prevents illegal immigration into Europe, others say it returns and blocks some asylum-seekers from claiming protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Concerns have also been raised around accountability and a lack of oversight to ensure the agency complies with relevant laws.
During the autumn of 2021, Switzerland’s government, along with the EU, agreed to increase its funding of Frontex. Switzerland’s contribution is expected to rise from CHF 24 million in 2021 to 61 million in 2027.
After this parliamentary decision, a number of Swiss politicians and members of the public began collecting the 50,000 signatures required to launch a referendum to reverse the decision to boost Frontex funding. On 20 January 2022, the group announced it had collected around 62,000 signatures, clearing a path for a vote on the subject on 15 May 2022, reported RTS. In addition, vote organisers say they want Frontex disbanded and free movement for all migrants to Europe.
If the referendum is successful, it could put Switzerland’s membership of the zone at risk. A “no” vote would signify an unavoidable withdrawal, according to Karin Keller-Sutter. If there is a “no” to Frontex, then it is clear that we will have to leave the Schengen-Dublin zone, she told RTS.
According to Keller, others at the gathering of European leaders were not aware of the Swiss vote and were surprised by the news.