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Swiss gain from EU fears over open borders

The Swiss border will only open very slowly for some EU citizens Keystone

The European Union has backed away from demands that Switzerland open its borders to citizens of ten new member states from 2007.

This content was published on February 4, 2004 - 20:13

Swiss negotiators won concessions on Wednesday after some EU states said that they wanted delays in allowing freedom of movement to new EU nationals.

The agreement means that citizens from the ten new EU member states will have to wait a few years more before all work and residency restrictions are lifted.

Dieter Grossen, chief negotiator for the Swiss, said Wednesday's talks in Bern were a “step forward”.

Brussels accepted that Switzerland, like member states of the Union, could restrict free movement of people in some cases.

The latest round of talks came just two days after the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, held discussions with members of the European Commission on a second round of bilateral negotiations.

Switzerland is not likely to have to grant freedom of movement to the new EU nationals before 2011 or 2012, putting it on an equal footing with Germany or France.

Restrictions

The start date of the transition period before borders are completely open has still to be negotiated, but it is certain to be many years before nationals from the new member states are free to work in Switzerland.

According to Grossen, the fact that a number of EU states - including France, Germany and Austria - have restricted access to their workplace until 2006 helped Switzerland's negotiating position.

Some countries now want these restrictions extended until up to 2011.

Under pressure

The Swiss government is facing pressure on the home front from some political parties and unions to restrict the arrival of foreign workers.

Unions fear the arrival of citizens from the new member states could lead to wage dumnping.

Grossen warns though that more talks will be necessary before a final agreement is reached.

“Up to now, the European Union had refused to enter into any discussion about transitional periods,” Grossen told swissinfo. “So you can imagine that it will take some time to see how to implement those transitional periods.”

The negotiator hopes an agreement will be in the bag by April. If the additional protocol is accepted, it is unlikely to come into force before 2006 at the earliest.

It will, however, have to be accepted by parliament, and could even face a nationwide vote. The rightwing People’s Party and unions have threatened to launch a referendum.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

On May 1, ten countries will join the European Union.
Three are the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Five are in Central Europe: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The two others are the islands of Cyprus and Malta.

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In brief

Switzerland and the EU have a bilateral agreement governing the free movement of people.

By mid-year, Swiss citizens will be free to live and work in EU countries, even though Switzerland is not a member of the Union.

Citizens of the present 15 EU member states will have to wait until at least 2007 before they enjoy full work and residency rights in Switzerland.

The agreement has to be negotiated with the ten new EU member states, which will be joining on May 1.

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