Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Switzerland looks set to limit EU migrants

Faced with rising unemployment, the Swiss government is currently working on a dossier that would see limits imposed on the number of EU workers entering the landlocked alpine country.

Under bilateral accords signed with the EU, the Swiss government is entitled to limit the number of workers entering the country from the original EU15 member states, as well as from Cyprus and Malta, if unemployment rises above a certain threshold.

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  • Swiss exports have been hit badly by the downturn (Photo: Aldo Mariano)

Access to the country's job market was never extended to the EU member states in central and eastern Europe that joined in 2004.

On Friday (8 May), new employment figures published by the state secretariat for economic affairs showed unemployment in April reached a new three-year high of 3.5 percent, adding to the prospects of a temporary limit on EU workers.

"Backed by the latest job market and migration statistics, the government will soon make a decision on the possible activation of the protection clause," justice department spokesman Philippe Piatti told Swiss media over the weekend.

Currently there are no restrictions on the number of EU workers that can take up job positions in Switzerland.

Under the bilateral accords however, the government is entitled to temporarily limit the number of EU workers taking up posts if the country's unemployment increases by more than 10 percent in a year compared to the average rate in the previous three years.

Swiss media report that the government is set to discuss a possible initiation of the mechanism on Wednesday.

If the clause is activated, immigration from the EU15, plus Cyprus and Malta, will be limited to the average migration rate of the previous year plus five per cent for a maximum of two years.

Citizens from Germany and Portugal currently make up the largest EU immigrant groups in Switzerland, whose export-driven economy has been hit hard by the global drop in demand.

Swiss standards

Last Friday's figures show that the number of jobless workers in Switzerland rose by 35.5 percent in April compared to the same month a year ago, pushing the unemployment rate to 3.5 percent.

While the Swiss are alarmed by the new unemployment rates, many EU countries can only dream of such figures.

The European commission last week released a new economic forecast predicting that the 27 member states would see unemployment average 9.4 per cent in 2009, rising to 10.9 per cent in 2010.

The data are worse for the 16 countries using the euro. Spain has been particularly badly hit by the crisis, and set to be burdened with an average unemployment figure this year of 17.3 percent.

EU and member state officials met in Prague last week at a specially convened employment summit in an attempt to come up with solutions to the growing problem.

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