Just over a year after Swiss voters approved an initiative to curb immigration, Brussels’ chief negotiator with Switzerland has rejected negotiations on the free movement of people while insisting that a new Swiss vote is “inevitable”.
In an interview with Swiss newspaper La Liberté on Thursday, EU diplomat Maciej Popowski said the Swiss would “without doubt” have to decide again by the end of 2016.
“It’s unimaginable that one takes a step backwards. Safeguard clauses belong to the past,” said Popowski, deputy secretary-general of the European External Action Service since November 1 and head of the negotiations with Switzerland.
He said the ball was now in Switzerland’s court and called on the Swiss to “change their logic”.
“Rather than thinking about what they could still get, maybe it would be useful if the Swiss see the enormous advantages they have through their participation in the internal market, which they take for granted,” he said.
On February 9 last year, 50.3% of Swiss voters backed a people's initiative “against mass immigration” put forward by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party.
As a result, the Swiss government drafted legislation to introduce immigration quotas in 2017, including for cross-border workers.
But this has been rejected by the EU, which “considers that the free movement of persons is a fundamental pillar of EU policy and that the internal market and its four freedoms are indivisible”, EU ministers said in a statement in December 2014.
Despite the result of the immigration vote, there are still politicians and businesspeople within Switzerland who are working for better relations with the EU, notably the sets of bilateral accords signed between Bern and Brussels.
Vorteil Schweiz (Advantage Switzerland) was launched last week as a counterweight to the “EU-NO” campaign waged by Christoph Blocher, the billionaire figurehead of the People’s Party.
“Many people want the same as us: to stand for a cosmopolitan Switzerland, to keep the bilaterals but not to join the EU,” Bernese businessman Jobst Wagner told the SonntagsZeitung.
He added that “all pragmatic forces” were invited to join the coalition, no matter their political affiliation. According to the SonntagsZeitung, politicians had joined from the leftwing Social Democratic Party, the centrist Christian Democratic Party, the centre-right Radical Party and the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party.
swissinfo.ch and agencies