Resident permits put strain on Swiss-Slovak ties

Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic during Monday's official visit Keystone

On a state visit to Bern on Monday, Slovakian President Ivan Gasparovic critised Switzerland for its April decision to temporarily restrict the number of resident permits granted to the citizens of Slovakia and seven other European Union nations.

This content was published on September 10, 2012 - 17:59 and agencies

“We think that it is not quite fair to our citizens. Especially if you consider that highly-qualified labour comes from Slovakia. They find a job here and pay taxes, thus contributing to economic growth,”  said Gasparovic at a news conference.

The conference followed a meeting with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. It was the first time a Slovak leader had come to Switzerland on an official visit since the split of Czechoslovakia two decades ago.

Gasparovic also said it was unfair that the eight eastern countries were being treated differently than the rest of the EU nations.

Safeguard clause

In April, the Swiss government decided to re-introduce quotas for immigration as part of a labour accord with the EU. The decision means that only 2,180 resident permits will be available for citizens of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia as well as the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The measure was invoked under a safeguard clause of a bilateral treaty between the EU and Switzerland for the free movement of people. lt took effect on May 1, and can be extended until 2014 at the latest. In June, Brussels called for the immediate repeal of the clause, but to no avail.

At Monday’s press conference, Widmer-Schlumpf acknowledged the feedback from Gasparovic and thanked him for his understanding. She was referring to the “massive influx” of people from these eight countries following as a result of the freedom of movement treaty, and described the situation as “difficult”.

Gasparovic noted that the labour market issue was the only gripe that his country had with Switzerland, and that he could understand that his host nation wanted to protect itself.

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