Safeguard clause loses support

Parliamentarians are re-thinking how to implement the February 2014 initiative to limit EU immigration Keystone

Using a so-called “safeguard clause” to limit immigration from the European Union has lost support among politicians who are searching for a way to implement Switzerland’s 2014 vote calling for immigrant quotas. It is also unlikely the timeline for implementing the referendum can be met. 

This content was published on February 21, 2016 - 13:20 and agencies

According to the SonntagsZeitung and Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspapers, members of parliament from the centre-right Radical Party and the leftwing Social Democrats now plan to vote against such a safeguard clause, and overall support for it is waning in parliament and the government.

The clause would activate an automatic quota on immigrants from the EU if specific terms are met, such as a certain number of people entering the country or a rapid increase in immigration numbers. Activating it at this point would be a one-sided move done by Switzerland without consulting the European Union over the free movement of people agreement, which politicians are increasingly regarding as dangerous. 

“Activating a one-sided safeguard clause would mean Switzerland would have to cancel the free movement of people agreement with the EU,” Social Democratic party leader Roger Nordmann told the SonntagsZeitung. 

Those in a coalition against using the clause, including moderates and members of the Green Party, argue that not using it leaves more options open for negotiating with the EU in future, especially in the wake of Britain’s deal with the EU reached on Friday. 

However, on Saturday, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told Swiss Public Radio SRF that cabinet still considers some sort of safeguard clause that the EU also agrees to to be the best and "maybe the only" option for finding common ground. 

"If negotiating that is not possible by the end of Febraury – which it probably won’t be – we want to go forward with a unilateral safeguard clause, remaining open for discussion with the EU."

Quantity vs quality

Many parliamentarians are now pushing for cabinet to examine the feasibility of other options, such as introducing terms that give priority to immigrants already in the country or quotas for businesses to recruit workers abroad. This would be a similar move to the British EU deal, which negotiated specific quotas related to immigrant benefits and business relocation.

However, according to the NZZ, such a move oriented around the “quality” rather than the “quantity” of immigrants would barely meet the terms set out by the referendum that the Swiss people voted in on February 9, 2014. 

The NZZ also reports that because Switzerland has to wait until Britain’s June 23 “Brexit” vote before continuing negotiations with the EU, implementing the initiative before the foreseen three-year term will not be possible. 

Cabinet is set to debate the terms of the initiative on Wednesday and is expected to announce a significant decision regarding its implementation in the coming weeks. 

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