By JOHN HEILPRIN
2014-05-10 03:01 AM
GENEVA (AP) -- The Swiss billionaire industrialist behind the nation's recent anti-immigration vote said Friday he is leaving parliament to concentrate on ensuring that Switzerland never joins the European Union.
Christoph Blocher, a former justice minister, said he will step down at the end of May but remain as vice president of the nationalist Swiss People's Party, which sponsored the anti-immigration referendum.
Switzerland has suffered a backlash from the EU since voters narrowly backed a referendum Feb. 9 to cap immigration. That vote went against the grain of free movement treaties between the EU and Switzerland.
In a video posted on his "Teleblocher" website, the controversial politician said he no longer wants to "waste" his time in the Bern-based parliament.
Instead, he said he would rather spend his time finding other ways to prevent "creeping EU membership" for the Alpine nation.
"The main threat to Switzerland consists of the planned institutional linking of Switzerland and the EU," Blocher said in a statement posted on his party's website. "The aim is to join the EU without making this clear to voters."
"I must therefore concentrate my political efforts on preventing EU membership," he added.
In 2007, Blocher's anti-immigrant positions angered coalition partners so much he was voted out of the Swiss Cabinet in a rare political shakeup, despite having led the People's Party to a stunning victory in national elections.
But in 2011, the nationalists -- campaigning heavily as usual on anti-immigrant sentiment -- failed to achieve their ambition to break through the 30 percent barrier in the lower house of parliament, as Swiss voters backed moderate forces in their general election.