Switzerland will not be able to renegotiate the free movement of people agreements with the European Union if the rightwing Swiss People’s Party’s anti-immigration initiative is approved on February 9, the EU Justice Commissioner warned.
In an interview with the Sunday newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag, Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, said it was “an illusion to think that the free movement of people could be renegotiated individually”.
The free movement of people is part of the single market, which is a package. “Switzerland is not able to pick and choose,” Reding told the newspaper. If Switzerland wants to make changes it will have to renegotiate all bilateral agreements in their entirety, because they are linked. She warns that such renegotiations would not be in Switzerland’s interests.
“Switzerland is an important partner for the EU. But the EU is an indispensable partner for Switzerland,” Reding said. “The EU is not only Switzerland’s largest trading partner, but also the largest economy in the world.”
Switzerland would be unlikely to function without the European single market. About 60% of Swiss exports go to the single market under the bilateral agreements, Reding explained.
Since the progressive introduction of the accord between Switzerland and the EU granting free access to each other’s labour markets, up to 80,000 foreign workers have come to Switzerland each year – about three in four from EU countries. This has fuelled concern that immigrants increase competition for jobs and cause a shortage of accommodation in urban areas.
In the interview with Schweiz am Sonntag Reding warned that the Swiss economy would not be able to function without migrants. If Switzerland “needs labour – and that is obviously the case – I do not see the problem. They work and they pay their taxes,” Reding told the Sunday paper.
“The high immigration corresponds to a high demand,” Reding said. “Migration is not a one way street,” the commissioner explained, pointing out that about 430,000 Swiss live in the EU.
Reding also criticised Switzerland’s strategy of negotiating bilateral agreements as “having served its time”. “We have 120 different bilateral agreements and a dozen technical commissions: That’s untransparent, bureaucratic and out-dated,” Reding said.
When asked to comment on the concern that European judges would increasingly define Swiss law, Reding said Switzerland could not cherry-pick. “If you want to participate in the single market, you also have to apply the laws of the single market.”