Saturday

18th Nov 2017

EU and Swiss still at odds on migrant quotas

The EU and Switzerland remain split on a Swiss plan to stem the number of migrants from member states.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels on Monday (21 December) that the two sides are still looking for a solution after Switzerland voted to impose migrant quotas in a referendum in 2014.

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  • Switzerland is set to impose quotas on migrants (Photo: Lars Francke)

"We hope that by February we will be able to set out what progress has been made," he said.

The Swiss referendum has strained bilateral relations, given the free movement principles which underpin the borderless Schengen zone.

Switzerland, while not an EU member state, is part of Schengen.

But the 2014 popular vote introduced annual quantitative limits to immigration, which includes cross-border commuters, asylum seekers, and people looking for work from the EU.

Such limits may undermine the EU-Swiss agreement on free movement. But under Swiss rules, the law must be implemented by February 2017.

"We're still trying to adopt rules on the basis of Article 14(2) of the Free Movement agreement that would allow us to bring our relations with Switzerland in order," said Juncker.

The Swiss Federal Council - its federal executive branch - and EU authorities are trying to reconcile the division.

"We have cleared the ground but we have no solution ... there is still a difficult way to go and a lot of work to be done. We might succeed, we might not," said Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga.

Earlier this month, the Swiss government instructed the federal department of justice and police to create a "safe guard clause" in case talks fail.

The clause would allow for targetted restrictions on permits for persons from EU states.

Switzerland has more than 100 bilateral agreements with the EU.

If no final deal emerges, Switzerland said it is willing to scrap part or all of its bilateral economic pacts as a last resort, reports Reuters.

According to the European Commission, over 1 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and another 230,000 cross the border daily for work. Some 430,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The EU is Switzerland's largest trade partner. In 2011, the EU accounted for 78 percent of its imports and 57 percent of its exports.

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