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London calling


Swiss have to wait over EU deal


By swissinfo.ch and agencies


The European Union will first need to come to an agreement with Britain - which is threatening to to leave the 28-member body - before it can consider any compromises with Switzerland over immigration.

In February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly approved a rightwing proposal to curb EU member immigration into Switzerland, a move which may signal an end to the country’s free movement accord with Brussels.

On Friday evening Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann confirmed speculation over the timetable for a possible deal with the EU.

His comments, made on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, follow a meeting there with EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans. “Timmermans made it clear to me that no deals would be made until the situation with Britain is cleared up,” Schneider-Ammann said.

He added in an interview with Swiss public television SRF that it was "understandable" that the British had priority.

Brexit?

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on Britain's future in the EU by the end of 2017 after a renegotiation process. As he reiterated in Davos on Thursday, he is calling for EU reforms, including curbs on migration and benefits, to stave off a “Brexit”.

According to Schneider-Ammann, Timmermans is confident that the EU will come to an agreement with London soon. The referendum on Britain’s future in the EU could already take place this summer, he added.

The anti-immigration initiative, driven by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, foresees the reintroduction of quotas, as well as a national preference when filling job vacancies and restrictions of immigrants’ rights to social benefits.

Critically, it also stipulates that Switzerland will have to renegotiate its bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people within three years or revoke it. This in turn could threaten other bilateral agreements with the EU. Officials in Brussels have said in the past they won’t renegotiate the matter and over the past two years Bern has made no progress in its attempts to negotiate concessions on the free movement of people with Brussels.

Any deal made with Switzerland could be prejudicial to the situation with Britain, said Schneider-Ammann.

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