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Free movement negotiations

EU considers Swiss worker priority in talks

Swiss and European Union officials met yet again to discuss the terms of the free movement of people agreement after Switzerland voted to curb immigration. EU diplomats reacted positively to a proposal to give Swiss job seekers an advantage over foreigners, but many sticking points remain. 

Wednesday’s meeting may signal some progress in stalled talks between Switzerland and the 28-member European bloc, as an EU diplomat told the Swiss News Agency SDA that the suggestion on the table was a good basis for discussion. 

Earlier this month, the Political Institutions Committee, made up of members of the Senate and House of Representatives, suggested a compromise whereby indigenous workers would get priority on the job market through a requirement that jobs first be advertised regionally. 

While some EU diplomats reacted positively to that suggestion, larger questions about the free movement of people agreement remained unresolved. Among those are criteria put forth by the same inter-parliamentary committee that would dictate the government’s restriction on immigration. The EU has sought further dialogue over those criteria, seeking to determine whether they violate the free movement of people agreement. 

Other questions to be resolved include defining “possible appropriate measures” that could be taken in case of excessive immigration, as well as what “serious economic or social difficulties” could entail that would lead Switzerland to need to curb immigration. 

Switzerland’s position with the EU is a unique one, which makes negotiations more difficult since there is no precedent in addressing difference over the free movement of people, according to the diplomat who spoke of Wednesday’s meeting. 

As a non-member of the EU surrounded by member countries, Switzerland has concluded a series of bilateral accords governing its trade and relations with the 28-nation bloc. However, Swiss voters’ decision to curb immigration from the EU in February 2014 placed those bilateral accords in question, since the free movement of people is a cornerstone of the Swiss-EU deal. 

The next opportunity for Swiss-EU dialogue on the matter will come on September 19 when EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is set to meet with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann in Zurich to mark the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill's famous speech on Europe. 

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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