EU calls on Swiss to lift immigration quotas

The EU has demanded that Switzerland lift restrictions on immigration from eight Central and Eastern European countries.

A Swiss delegation met in Brussels on Wednesday to talk for the first time about the application of the so-called safeguard clause in its bilateral treaty with the European Union, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

The EU demanded that the clause, which came into effect on May 1st 2012, be lifted immediately in order to ensure Switzerland respected the free movement of people from EU countries, Mario Gattiker, director of the Federal Office for Migration told the newspaper.

Gattiker said Switzerland intended to stick to its decision.

The activation of the clause is considered by Brussels to be discriminatory, and in contravention of the tenet that all member states should be treated equally.

Switzerland has been considering activating the clause, which is contained in its bilateral treaty with the EU, for some time.

The country already met the one specific condition needed to trigger the clause last summer. This condition stipulates that the number of work permits granted to workers from the EU in the last year must have exceeded by at least 10 percent the annual average for the three previous years.

This level was reached last year mainly due to the high number of immigrants arriving from Eastern European countries, finance minister Johann Schneider-Ammann told the foreign affairs policy commission in January. 

Nevertheless, the EU claims that this is not a justifiable reason to restrict movement.

“We made it clear that we see the safeguard clause as being in accordance with the Free Movement of People,” Gattiker said.

Fears are growing in Switzerland that the EU will retaliate against the Swiss decision. This is a particular cause for concern given the various issues currently on the table for negotiation between the two.

EU Foreign Commissioner, Catherine Ashton, is also worried that these differences of opinion have highlighted the absence of a satisfactory dispute resolution system between the EU and Switzerland. The only thing that the member states can do is to put forward their objections in a year’s time, the newspaper reported.

This is unsatisfactory for many, who in future would like to see some kind of mediation facility between the parties in the event of such disputes.

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