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17th Apr 2021

Switzerland threatens EU immigration quota

  • EU-Swiss relations have been strained since an immigration referendum in 2014 (Photo: Jean-Noël Dollé)

The Swiss government announced Friday (4 December) it would limit immigration from EU countries with a unilateral quota by March 2016 if it is unable to strike a deal with the EU.

Switzerland is not an EU member, but belongs to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein. Like all four EFTA countries, Switzerland has signed the Schengen agreement, which allows EU citizens to enter the Alpine country freely – and vice versa.

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But in a February 2014 referendum, the Swiss voted "against mass immigration". The country's Federal Council – its federal executive branch – has been trying to transform the referendum result into legislative action.

It said Friday that while it “decided to continue the ongoing consultations with the EU”, the government also instructed the federal department of justice and police to come up with unilateral rules on immigration in the form of a “safeguard clause”, for in case the talks fail.

“The aim of the clause would be to allow the independent control of immigration by imposing temporary and targeted restrictions on permits for persons from EU/EFTA states,” it said.

The government will set “a specific threshold … for the immigration of citizens of EU and EFTA states, which, if exceeded, would lead to quantitative limits and quotas being introduced the following year”.

“The Federal Council will specify the types of permits and purposes of residence to which the limits and quotas will apply. When making these decisions, it will give special consideration to Switzerland's general economic interests and the recommendations of a new immigration commission, as proposed in the consultation draft”, it added.

The EU is Switzerland's main trading partner, and any restrictions are expected to cause economic damage.

EU-Swiss relations have been strained since the referendum, and continue to be bumpy.

In October, the eurosceptic and anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) won 29.5 percent in lower house elections. It was the SVP that was behind the referendum.

This article had mistakenly said the EU was a member of the European Free Trade Association. It has been corrected on Monday 7 December

EU and Switzerland agree on free movement

EU states approved a new Swiss law that will allow EU citizens to work freely in Switzerland despite a 2014 referendum on immigration quotas.

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