Scrapping of EU accords ‘unthinkable’: Maurer

Scrapping of EU accords 'unthinkable': Maurer
Maurer's SVP spearheaded the referendum campaign. Photo: Swiss Federal Chancellery
Populist Swiss cabinet minister Ueli Maurer says he doesn’t believe Switzerland’s string of deals with the European Union are at risk following a national vote to restrict immigration.

Maurer’s Swiss People’s Party (SVP) championed the ‘Against Mass Immigration’ referendum that was unexpectedly passed by the people on February 9th.

The vote, which will see the reintroduction of quotas for EU citizens coming to Switzerland, goes against the agreement on the free movement of persons that Switzerland had signed up to.

In an interview with the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper, Maurer said it was not in either side’s interest to annul the agreements that cover a broad range of trade and economic areas.

The vote calls into question Switzerland’s relationship with the EU, which is based on the bilateral accords.

The EU had voiced outrage at the referendum result, insisting that Switzerland could not pick and choose which accords to implement and pledging to review "relations as a whole".

But Maurer told the Sunday paper the threats from the 28-nation bloc, for example to end student exchanges, should not be taken too seriously as there were divisions within the EU camp.

“Not much will happen before the elections to the European Parliament in May; the EU will only be prepared for constructive dialogue with Switzerland after that,” Maurer said.

Although the EU maintained that the free movement accord was “non-negotiable” Switzerland would try to negotiate on it, he said. Switzerland had to defend its position confidently.

In a separate interview with the Sonntags Zeitung newspaper, Maurer declined to outline specific steps Switzerland could take while discussions continue among parliamentarians and interest groups.

The business federation economiesuisse has argued that there must be flexibility in the fixing of quotas.

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