Swiss fear tough line over free movement

The European Parliament could well back a motion rejecting Switzerland’s request to renegotiate the free movement of persons accord Keystone

Swiss press and observers fear that European officials will take a tough line with Switzerland over its proposal to renegotiate the free movement of people accord with the European Union and to introduce immigration quotas.

This content was published on April 30, 2015 - 13:51 and agencies

According to the Le Temps newspaper and the Swiss News Agency, members of a European Parliament commission look set to back a motion in Strasbourg rejecting Switzerland’s request to renegotiate the free movement of persons accord, to reintroduce quotas for EU citizens and to carry out priority hiring for Swiss residents.

The draft motion calls for institutional EU-Swiss issues to be discussed ahead of any new bilateral talks.

According to the French-speaking newspaper, Switzerland’s ambassador to Brussels, Roberto Balzaretti, has been invited to appear before the parliamentary commission on May 7 to outline Switzerland’s position on these issues.

The draft document obtained by the two media says that without any new framework agreement, Switzerland cannot claim access to the EU’s interior market.

This news follows a high-level meeting of European Commission director generals and other officials on April 21, which decided to freeze any negotiations with Switzerland ahead of any resolution of the free movement issue.

This included the European Commission stopping talks with Switzerland over a cross-border electricity agreement. But during her visit to Brussels in January, Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard claimed that her counterpart, Miguel Arias Cañete, had hinted that a transitional solution was possible but under ‘difficult conditions’. The Swiss are also eager to seek progress on the opening up of the European financial services market to Swiss firms.

On February 9, 2014, Swiss voters narrowly accepted a rightwing proposal to stop “mass immigration”, including from the European Union. The result has spelled complications for the free movement accord, souring relations with the EU. Free movement of people and jobs within its borders is one of the fundamental policies of the EU, and Switzerland, while not a member of the bloc, has participated under a special pact with Brussels.

If the EU’s tougher approach comes to pass, it will be very difficult for the Swiss to advance before resolving the free movement issue, said René Schwok, a political scientist at Geneva University.

“The Swiss government and most Swiss citizens have convinced themselves that they are going to find solutions, like with the Erasmus university exchange programme, but clearly the reality is different,” he told Swiss public radio, RTS.

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