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Leuthard queries free movement policy

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard says that the government made errors when it opened up the country's borders to foreign workers.

She said it expected more European Union citizens to return home after losing their jobs in the economic crisis and that she was considering making it harder for them to get unemployment benefits.

Switzerland has signed a bilateral agreement with the EU allowing the free movement of people, meaning that EU and Swiss citizens can live and work in each other’s countries.

The unemployment rate is higher abroad than in Switzerland, which explains why more EU citizens are not returning home, Leuthard said. She said that the government had therefore been wrong not to impose a quota on EU workers coming into the country earlier this year, as is its right under the agreement.

“With this we would have been able to stop several thousand people coming onto the Swiss job market.”

Concerns have been raised in Switzerland after its employment rate rose to four per cent in October 2009 for the first time in nearly five years.

The government will be looking into lowering the attractiveness of the country for foreigners, including considering whether changes should be made to access to benefits, she said. It would also consider whether the quota could be applied in 2010 and 2011.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey raised eyebrows last week when she said that Swiss businesses should recruit Swiss residents over foreigners.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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