No 10 million Switzerland: What the initiative means for expats

No 10 million Switzerland: What the initiative means for expats

Officials at the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) have announced that they have enough signatures to make the “No 10 million Switzerland!” or Sustainability Initiative (Keine 10-Millionen-Schweiz! (Nachhaltigkeits-Initiative)) into a referendum. Here’s what expats need to know about the proposal, and how it would impact expats if passed.

No 10 million Switzerland! (Keine 10-Millionen-Schweiz!) to be voted on

On February 10, an SVP councillor from Zurich, Thomas Matter, confirmed that his party had garnered 110.000 signatures in favour of voting on the "No 10 million Switzerland!" or "Sustainability Initiative". Officially, the party had until January 5, 2025, to gain enough signatures, but managed to achieve the milestone in just seven months. 

The achievement is perhaps not a surprise, given that the SVP placed the "No 10 million Switzerland!" proposal at the forefront of its successful campaign for the federal elections in October 2023. The party hopes to submit the referendum by the beginning of April, meaning it is a matter of when, rather than if, it will be voted on.

All expats need to know about the Sustainability Initiative (Nachhaltigkeits-Initiative)

Specifically, the Sustainability Initiative calls for “sustainable population development” to be written into the Swiss constitution, and for the population to not exceed 10 million people before 2050 - under the plans, from 2050, the government would decide on an appropriate population limit to be determined by the number of births, not migration. 

Alongside the call, the proposal would demand that the federal government and Swiss cantons “take measures for sustainable population development, in particular, to protect the environment and in the interest of the long-term preservation of the natural basis of life, the performance of infrastructure, healthcare and Swiss social insurance.”

How would the Sustainability Initiative achieve its goals (if passed)?

To achieve this goal, the referendum would add new articles to the Swiss constitution. The first states that if the resident population of Switzerland exceeds 9,5 million people before 2050 - bear in mind that the population exceeded 9 million people in September 2023 - the government is instructed to do everything possible to ensure the 10 million mark is not reached.

While it leaves the details up to lawmakers, the clause suggests that asylum seekers should be denied “any residence or settlement permit, no Swiss citizenship or any other right to remain.” It also advises the government to “renegotiate international agreements that drive population growth.”

If the population does exceed 10 million people before 2050, the referendum demands the government take dramatic action. Among other measures, this involves withdrawing from the United Nations Migration Pact related to asylum seekers. Most drastically, the law would instruct Switzerland to terminate the free movement of persons agreement with the European Union “as soon as possible.”

Why does the SVP want No 10 million Switzerland to pass?

In justifying the Sustainability Initiative, the SVP wrote that population growth was “overwhelming our infrastructure, destroying our nature” and contributing to the shortage of housing in Switzerland. Indeed, they made the point that high levels of migration have seen the number of available apartments to rent decline significantly, especially in the major cities.

They noted that around 180.000 people arrived in Switzerland in 2022, a population larger than Basel, and that the country cannot cope with current levels of continual migration. However, it’s important to point out that this is total immigration, net migration stood at 80.000 in 2022.

SVP National Councillor for Canton Aargau, Martina Bircher, told SRF’s Let’s Talk programme back in June 2023 that Switzerland is caught in an “immigration spiral” that it cannot control: “People are coming who need housing, so we need construction workers. They have children, so we need teachers, we have to build schoolhouses, so we need construction workers again.”

Opposition voices against the Swiss Sustainability Initiative

Needless to say, the proposal is not well received among many political opponents of the SVP. Speaking back in 2023, director of the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies, Denise Efionayi, told Swissinfo that the initiative is a “very dangerous combination” of “xenophobia” and a “conservative Switzerland that stages itself against the city and against migration.”

She added that Swiss cities “want more migration” to fill all the jobs that are in demand. Others have also questioned how the Swiss pension system is to survive without a continual supply of young workers, given Switzerland's birth rate is well below the replacement rate. 

Sustainability Initiative divides SVP

Others noted that the Sustainability Initiative has also cemented a rift within the SVP itself, with rural conservatives in favour and pro-business candidates against. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a newspaper typically assumed to be on the right of Swiss politics, wrote before Christmas that the SVP’s “tax policy promotes the influx of international companies and skilled workers” and that the idea of combating population growth was “just a vehicle” to politicise issues in the asylum system.

However, the newspaper concluded that other parties also needed to start taking the issue of migration seriously if they are to beat the SVP: “If the parties don’t deal with it, the issue will come up for voting again and again and the SVP will celebrate permanent election victories.”

What are the chances of No 10 million Switzerland passing?

While the Sustainability Initiative remains popular among SVP voters, it is unclear how compelling the proposal is to the wider public. For instance, the “Ecopop” referendum - which would have limited population growth via immigration to 0,2 percent per year - was rejected by 74,1 percent of voters in 2014.

Thumb image credit: Urban Napflin /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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