Growing Pains? (Or: Why “Ecopop” Will Tank)

Posted by on Nov 22, 2014 in, Switzerland | No Comments

Swiss trains in central Switzerland

09:37 (UTC±00:00), 22 NOV 2014 | GBR HARROW, GREATER LONDON

The vote on 30 November 2014 on whether or not “Ecopop”, an initiative which seeks to impose very rigid immigration caps per year, as well as give federal money for foreign birth control measures (link in German), is like one of those surreal plots to just simply put a cork in what some in Switzerland fear as “mass immigration”.

To me, Switzerland has always been a country which has continued to grow, although if it wants to “chase China” in terms of growth, it is sorely behind. Central China’s province of He’nan, once known more for con artists or poor farmers, wowed me a year back with its brand-spankin’-new East CBD and the East HSR station. It was amazing.

Train stations have continued to witness key expansion projects, and I cannot blame anyone or anything other than “natural development” as the reason. I do have to say that some of the older underground passages between platforms at Zürich Main Station were too narrow, too dark, and not well signposted enough. The recent addition of four new platforms couldn’t come any sooner. In modern station design concepts, a fully “dead end” station for the country’s largest city doesn’t make any real sense. So the new bit with the through tracks was a logical expansion. Building trains carrying more people was also a natural choice, as the authorities restricted how many cars and lorries were permitted through the mountains.

Most of the growth was basically in parts of the country which was already relatively well urbanised. I have driven through a part of Zürich which goes through older parts of town, more hilly terrain, and parts of the countryside. I think I have seen about 5%, no more than 10%, in terms of newer buildings. The “conurbationalisation” of the country is something that is just too far to be a matter we have to be worried about. The village of Ebmatingen, for example, remained very much the same way as I went through it, day after day, in the 1990s.

Yes, Zürich has continued to grow, but what do you expect from a part of the country that brands itself “downtown Switzerland”? At least it’s not as “bad” as Beijing, which is excavating a part of its eastern core area to prepare for one of the world’s most amazing CBD development projects — something that should have Shanghai’s Lujiazui s**ting bricks (quite literally; oh and BTW excusez mon Franglais).

I have been in parts of the world where newly-built throughways were congested from Day 2 after its opening (I’m looking at you, Tonghuihe North Road, Beijing!). I have had to yank an alien passenger so that the doors on Beijing Subway Line 1’s trains could slam shut. Switzerland will need probably a trillion (OK, at least a thousand) years or so before it apes Beijing in terms of how scary the whole thing can get. Smarter development of cities and urban areas, as well as improvements in infrastructure, is probably a bigger deal than this “Ecopop” initiative to which no sane, rational human being can make sense of — less vote in favour of.

Lately, a rather sick tweet has been making the rounds on Twitter about “Ecopop”. “Sorry, you cannot come and live in Switzerland (because there are no more quotas available for you) — however, we can give you a birth control pill (or the equivalent).” Would you imagine Swiss embassies and federal authorities to start this? But that’s what “Ecopop” is about, really. Limiting who can come in aggravates the problem in an ageing society — it limits young talent and also means less seniors in the country get adequate care. It hurts everyone.

I’m hoping “Ecopop” is dealt the death of a thousand cuts on 30 November 2014. To me the “initiative” is just simply the best way to unmake Switzerland and its success story — if it was passed, Switzerland would be going through the beginning of its end. I’ve tried to consider, by way of serious, critical hypotheses, the stance the other way — “Switzerland is already overpopulated with foreigners”, as it might be held by some — and I’ve taken a good look at the reports, the pics, and the stats. To me the fact that “Ecopop” was even able to go ahead as an “initiative” is a sign of how naïve some of us have grown. Thing is here — vote for “Ecopop” at your own risk. There is no Undo button for this — lest you get the country into at least the EEA, restoring Freedom of Movement. We have moved beyond the stage when the country was “pure / full of Swiss and only Swiss people”. This was an OK stance a few centuries back. It is not a 21st century-compatible position.

Every country, every city, goes through growing pains. In 2003, I was able to zip back from university in Beijing by car in about 30 minutes by expressway; if I used the same route now, it’d easily take 90 minutes or worse. But setting artificial limits only aggravates the problem. “Ecopop” reflects the sentiments of some, but is a valid solution for no-one.

For what it’s worth, I’ve already sent my vote back. You can obviously guess what my answer to the “Ecopop” deal was:

“NEIN — NON — NO.”

Und zum Schluss noch dies… (sorry, Charles Clerc): On a personal point of view, I find those initiatives and referendums creepy. If Bern had grown a brain (it has, but it needs to grow it better) it would interpret the free movement deal in a better way. I actually wrote a fellow Swiss friend lately, saying that this was a better alternative. Nobody wants Switzerland to be a nation of 10+ million overnight (and I say this after Beijing grew to the extent it became a nightmare to live in), but we can keep things in order using dynamic interpretations of the agreement, which do not nullify it, but which keep the interests of all parties considered. The fact I am saying NO to “Ecopop” does not mean Bern has a licence to completely overstuff Switzerland with people (if it runs out of people, extra-terrestrials next; OK, that was a bad idea). Completely uncontrolled immigration is scary, just like if you opened your window at night on a hot summer night, you might find a more “interesting” assortment of bugs and mosquitoes upon your return! There has to be a way to fix this without resorting to solutions that simply would not work.