Switzerland and the European Union have ended summer talks without finding a way to break a deadlock over immigration, Swiss media reported on Monday.
As a result, Switzerland likely will have to re-introduce quotas as required by a nationwide vote. The quotas for limiting influxes of foreigners risk destroying a set of EU treaties vital to the Swiss economy.
Swiss and EU negotiators tried this summer to smooth over differences that resulted from a narrowly approved right-wing measure to curb immigration in a 2014 nationwide vote. The vote put at risk other Swiss-EU agreements on a wide range of issues such as movement of workers, trade and transport.
The talks were delayed until late June through July because the EU did not want to negotiate with Switzerland before knowing whether Britain would leave the EU, Swiss negotiator Jacques de Watteville told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag.
The government has until August to prepare a bill for parliament to discuss in order to implement immigration limits next February, following a nationwide vote in 2014.
Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss economics minister who holds the rotating yearly presidency, had said in mid-July that intense talks at a technical level were needed over the next few weeks to find a solution acceptable to both sides.
There is still a long shot that a solution can be found at a meeting scheduled for September 19 between Schneider-Ammann and the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. That meeting is scheduled to be held in Zurich, where Juncker will speak at the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill speeches on Europe.
Brexit and beyond
Brussels has repeatedly said, however, that it is not willing to tolerate a breach of one of its key policy tenets, the free movement of people.
The situation is complicated by the UK "Brexit" vote to leave the EU. Brussels will have to negotiate with London on free movement of people, so it is likely to maintain a hardline approach with Switzerland.
Switzerland is not a member of the 28-nation bloc, but over the past 15 years it has concluded a series of bilateral agreements. The EU is Switzerland’s main trading partner, but Swiss rightwing politicians have warned of closer ties with Brussels.
swissinfo.ch and agencies