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EU pressures Swiss cantons over free movement

eu flag and swiss flag
The EU flag and the Swiss flag, as seen during the official visit of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Bern last November Keystone

The European Union has drawn up a “sin list” of which Swiss cantons do not apply the free movement of people principle according to bilateral agreements, Swiss public television SRF has reported.

Which documents should a Swiss canton ask for when an EU citizen wants to take up a job in Switzerland? Only two, says the EU: a valid identity document and a confirmation of employment.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU but it has a bilateral agreement permitting EU citizens to live and work in Switzerland, and visa versa. The EU says that not all cantons are keeping to the terms of that agreement, asking for more than is required from citizens of the 28-nation bloc who want to settle in Switzerland.

The EU’s exact grievances are detailed in a 19-page document. One of the most common involves the fact that cantons often ask for more documents than just IDs and employment confirmation, such as rental or full employment contracts including salary and job details, SRF said on Wednesday.

Another spat?

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) sent the cantons a letter in October 2017 asking them to bring their practices in line with the EU’s list. But the cantons would like to maintain a certain level of flexibility.

“From a strictly legal point of view, some cantons are breaching the free movement of people agreement. But we see a certain leeway in the interpretation of the agreement. We’d like to keep this,” Marcel Suter, head of the association of cantonal migration departments, told SRF.

It’s about finding practical solutions, Suter added. Employment contracts could be kept on file to facilitate a later review of the job market, he explained.

Politicians have raised the prospect of another spat with the EU over the issue, similar to the one over the EU limiting Swiss stock market access to its markets to a year.

+ More on the stock exchange disagreement

Criminal records

The southern Swiss canton of Ticino has a long entry in the list, according to SRF. But its security director, Norman Gobbi, said that the canton would not change its practices. “It’s in the interest of the canton to safeguard these controls,” Gobbi said. Ticino also asks for a copy of a person’s criminal record, if any. Gobbi says this allows the cantons to keep serious criminals out of the canton.

SRF said that three further cantons have started to ask for criminal records: Valais, Basel Country and Basel City. However, they allow for the records to be produced through self-declaration rather than requiring them.

Switzerland is in the midst of thorny negotiations over a new framework agreement with the EU which concerns its bilateral agreements. A new EU negotiator for Switzerland was named on Wednesday.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR