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Bilateral relations Key Swiss business lobbyist wants immigration limit

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga has had several talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this year.

(Keystone)

Switzerland should set a ceiling on the number of European Union (EU) citizens permitted to live and work on Swiss soil, finds the president of Swiss business federation economiesuisse. Yet he warns that a cancellation of the bilateral agreements would be fatal. 

Amid predictions that the Swiss cabinet will announce a plan for implementing the people’s initiative to curb immigration this coming Friday, economiesuisseexternal link president Heinz Karrer says his organisation would welcome a safeguard clause limiting how many EU citizens can come to Switzerland. 

In an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Wednesday, Karrer said, “A safeguard clause would have the advantage that the free movement of people would be maintained up to a set limit. Only after a certain number of migrants would there be quotas.” 

Although not a member of the 28-nation European Union, Switzerland has a number of bilateral agreements with the EU – including the free movement of people concept that allows Swiss and EU citizens to live and work where they please. 

Karrer emphasised the importance of maintaining good relations with the EU, noting that the cancellation of the bilateral agreements would be “fatal” and that these are also in the EU’s interest. However, he says it’s too early to set a limit. 

“It doesn’t make sense to name a figure today. We don’t know how immigration will look in 2016 or the years after,” Karrer said, suggesting that the limit be evaluated from year to year. 

Karrer told the Tages-Anzeiger he believed that the cabinet would come up with a plan compatible with the “against mass immigration” initiative approved by Swiss voters in February 2014. 

“Then there’d be no need for a second vote. It would just be a question of whether anybody would push for a referendum,” Karrer said. 

Around a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.3 million residents do not have a Swiss passport (although some 400,000 of them were born in Switzerland). According to the Federal Statistical Officeexternal link, last year Switzerland was home to 1.3 million citizens from EU/EFTA countries, with the largest communities coming from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

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