Auteur: | By Elitsa Vucheva
The Swiss have said yes to joining the EU's borderless area and implementing joint action with the EU on asylum seekers, with 54.6 percent of the people voting in favour of the Schengen/Dublin agreements during Sunday's (5 June) referendum.
This means that Switzerland, which is not an EU member, will not only open its borders, but will also reinforce cooperation and information exchanges with EU authorities.
Under the Dublin agreement, an asylum seeker refused access to one of the member states cannot seek asylum in another member state, which will lower Switzerland's overall number of asylum requests.
The turnout of the referendum was very high for the country, at 56 percent.
According to Diana Wallis, head of the European Parliament's delegation responsible for relations with Switzerland, the result was not a surprise, as "Schengen was something Switzerland wanted more than the EU", Swissinfo reports.
But although a majority of citizens endorsed the agreements, the Yes camp failed to obtain a majority of cantons.
Most of the French-speaking cantons voted in favour, but a majority of German and Italian cantons voted negatively.
A narrow win for the Yes had been expected, as the last poll published on 25 May put the Yes at 55 percent, and showed the No was on the increase, at 35 percent.
But after both French (29 May) and Dutch (1 June) citizens rejected the EU Constitution, fears had arisen that their No could have a negative effect on the Swiss referendum, as well.
The Swiss No campaign was mainly lead by the Swiss People's Party and argued that opening Switzerland's borders would lead to greater crime, would increase immigration and would result in immigrants stealing Swiss jobs.
On the other hand, one of the Yes Campaign slogans - "No to Switzerland becoming an island" - was centred on EU integration and an end to Swiss isolation within the EU.
The Yes camp was also supported by the Swiss government.
At the moment, the Schengen area includes 15 states: 13 EU members (all old member states except for the UK and Ireland) plus Iceland and Norway.
The result of the referendum was welcomed by the EU with the justice and external relations commissioners saying it was an important step in relations between Switzerland and the EU.
The next Swiss EU-related referendum will be held in September, when the Swiss will have to decide on whether or not to give the same rights to work and live in the country to citizens of the ten new EU members, as to the 15 old ones.
This will be a more controversial and delicate question to be asked, and anti-EU campaigners have already started their campaigns.
Should the labour accords be rejected, all bilateral agreements would be in question.