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Switzerland awaits EU verdict on immigration solution

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Switzerland awaits EU verdict on immigration solution
The Swiss President (L) will be hoping it will be all smiles again when EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gives his verdict. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP
10:12 CET+01:00
Will the EU accept that Switzerland’s ‘light’ immigration solution doesn’t contravene the free movement of people?

That’s the question on politicians’ lips after parliament came to an agreement earlier this week about how to implement the ‘against mass immigration’ initiative, voted for in a February 2014 referendum, which called for quotas to be placed on immigration from the EU.

After nearly three years of debate, MPs decided to water down the original text, rejecting quotas in favour of a 'light' solution giving Swiss workers preference over EU workers in the job market.

The move was designed to preserve country’s relationship with the EU, which would have been thrown in disarray by fixed quotas, deemed a breach of the two parties’ bilateral agreement on the free movement of people.

The new law is subject to a final vote on Friday but is likely to be passed, given the political parties in favour have a majority over the dissenting Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Christian Democrats (CVP), which the Tages Anzeiger reported is likely to abstain.

However, despite the country finally deciding on a way forward, there’s still no guarantee the EU Commission will consider the Swiss solution acceptable.

If it does, the two parties can to some extent put the last three years behind them and move on with their bilateral agreements intact.

Switzerland will then be able to ratify the protocol granting free movement to Croatia. As a result, the EU should once again allow Swiss scientists’ full participation in the EU-wide Horizon 2020 research project and Swiss students’ inclusion in the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme, both of which were frozen by the EU as a result of the February 2014 referendum.

However if the EU Commission judges the Swiss solution to contravene the free movement of people, Switzerland will face the prospect of imposing its new rules unilaterally, since it is bound by law to implement its solution by February 2017.

To do so would be to risk many other bilateral agreements between the two.

An EU source of newspaper Le Temps told the paper that the initial rumblings in Brussels were positive, with many feeling the Swiss solution “goes in the right direction”.

However the EU Commission will reserve any official comment until after Friday when the Swiss parliament takes its final vote on the subject.

“If there aren’t any changes to this latest vision then there’s no reason that their assessment will be negative,” a source told Le Temps.

“There’s nothing in the text that can be suspected of contravening the agreement on the free movement of people”.

However Swiss media has reported that some fear the new Swiss rules could lead to the discrimination of EU nationals in the Swiss job market, something unlikely to be accepted by Brussels.

The Swiss solution is likely to be the subject of a meeting by an EU-Swiss committee on December 22nd, said Le Temps.

READ MORE: Switzerland's immigration dilemma: what you need to know

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