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Immigration policy Post-Brexit, fixing bilateral deals a priority for Swiss

Not all journeys are as easy as this one: Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann (in red tie) and the leaders of Italy, France and Germany test the new Gotthard rail tunnel on June 1, 2016.


Before European Union leaders take their summer break, there should be a clear thrust for coping with immigration, finds the Swiss economics minister. 

In an interview with Sunday newspapers SonntagsZeitungexternal link and Le Matin Dimancheexternal link, Johann Schneider-Ammann said he wanted to push for a quick immigration solution with Brussels – despite the distraction of Brexit. 

The Swiss government has until February 2017 to implement 2014’s binding referendum vote to set immigration quotas – as called for in a popular initiative by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party. But as Schneider-Ammann noted, fixed quotas would be “very problematic”. 

To preserve Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU, Schneider-Ammann is counting on some sort of immigration safeguard clause, as suggested by former State Secretary Michael Ambühl. What could work is “a model of a differentiated safeguard clause with measures for dealing with problems in a particular industry and a particular region”, according to Schneider-Ammann.

“What would Winston Churchill have done?”

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As for Brexit – fuelled primarily by concerns about immigration – Schneider-Ammann said he was up at 3am on Friday, the day the results of the referendum were announced. 

“It will go down in history as the day that changed the EU,” said Schneider-Amman, adding, “I’m astonished by the city-country split and the various attitudes within the United Kingdom; the fact that Scotland clearly voted to stay [in the EU] shows that there are still some old wounds in Britain.” 

The economics minister mentioned that he had received all the writings of Winston Churchill as a graduation gift.

“Winston Churchill, who, in Zurich after the war, called for a unified Europe! I asked myself if he could have prevented this development. What would he have done if his own following had been under such strain that it would have turned away from Europe?” asked Schneider-Ammann, guessing that it wouldn’t have come to Brexit. 

“He probably would have made sure that people didn’t say you have to turn every pound over three times, while the EU answers cries for help from individual nations,” Schneider-Ammann said.

Opportunity for Switzerland?

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter sees Britain’s departure from the EU as an opportunity for Switzerland to resolve its immigration dispute with the 28-country bloc. As he told the Schweiz am Sonntagexternal link newspaper, he firmly believes that Switzerland has a window “for a solution on the issue of immigration”.

“Together, the EU and Switzerland should have the courage to find an amicable and legally secure solution,” stated Burkhalter in Schweiz am Sonntag. And as he told another Sunday newspaper, SonntagsZeitung, Switzerland could even become a “testing ground” for the EU with regard to its talks with Britain.

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