I February, two years ago: There is a commercial break in Swiss-German programming on SF1, state television, before the popular evening news magazine 10 vor 10. The screen fills with an image of the Swiss flag sandwiched between the black, red and gold stripes of the German flag. Slowly, the German colours overwhelm the distinctive cross, until it disappears.
This was how daily newspaper Blick publicised the launch of series called "How many Germans can Switzerland take?" The articles ranged from serious
assessments such as the reasons behind increased German immigration, to a set of Swiss-German lessons for their High-German speaking neighbours.
Switzerland is not unaccustomed to immigration. Since the end of World War II, thanks in part to its economic success, Switzerland has been a desirable destination. In the 1970s, thousands of Italians and Spanish came in search of employment or simply higher pay than they could have earned at home.
Switzerland has typically maintained a strict immigration policy that included the issue of temporary and seasonal immigration permits. However, since 2002, Switzerland--despite not being a member of the European Union--agreed to a bilateral labour accord with the EU for an initial seven-year period. Under the agreement Switzerland and the EU grant each other access to their respective labour markets. The agreement has since been extended, and now includes the newest EU members Bulgaria and Romania.
For the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, this bilateral agreement has led to a considerable influx of German nationals--happy to seize the opportunity for higher pay in a country they generally find offers an attractive lifestyle.
Since 2002 the number of German residents has grown to such an extent that by the end of last year, in Canton Zurich, they accounted for the largest foreign national group--clocking in at 5.1 per cent of the population. Italians are the second largest at 3.8 per cent. At the national level the largest foreigner group is still comprised of Italians (with 290,000 at the end of last year), but the Germans are close behind (233,352 at the end of 2008).
Crossing the line?
This new group of immigrants, however, is different than many of its predecessors. German nationals already speak the official language--though not the dialect and many are not taking the lower-paid jobs often happily accepted by more traditional immigrant groups...