Juncker rules out unilateral approach on immigration

Simonetta Sommaruga and Jean-Claude Juncker are still looking for a solution to a problem in which one side wants limits to freedom of movement and the other doesn't Keystone

Talks between Bern and Brussels over the implementation of Switzerland’s cap on EU immigrants will intensify even though no solution has yet been found, according to Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. 

This content was published on December 21, 2015 - 20:11 and agencies, and agencies

“Over the past ten months we haven’t made any miracles, but we’ve made progress,” Sommaruga said on Monday in Brussels at a press conference after a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “We’ve got a clear idea where we are going from here.” 

The Swiss decided to end unrestricted immigration for citizens of EU countries in a 2014 referendum, giving the government until early 2017 to implement the change. 

Relations between Switzerland and the surrounding EU are governed by a set of bilateral treaties covering topics such as the free movement of persons, agriculture, education and border controls. They contain a “guillotine” clause that will nullify all if one is struck down. 

On December 4, Sommaruga explained her government plans to use a “safeguard clause” that would kick in if immigration from the EU reached a given level. While Switzerland aims to find a solution acceptable to the EU, it will implement the restriction unilaterally if no mutual deal can be found, Sommaruga has said. 

Unilateral approach 

“There’s no question of a unilateral approach, as that wouldn’t be the result of a negotiation,” Juncker told reporters on Monday at the same press conference. 

Economists and entrepreneurs have warned that new immigration caps would hurt an economy that’s benefited from a high influx of foreigners in recent years. Nearly a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.2 million population aren’t citizens. 

Swiss gross domestic product would be between 4.9% and 7.1% lower in 2035 if Bilateral Agreement I – which includes the free movement of persons, agriculture, research and civil aviation – was nullified, government studies show. That works out to an average reduction of CHF32 billion ($32 billion) a year in economic output, they found. 

“We have cleared the ground, but as yet we have no solution,” Sommaruga said on Monday. 

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