UK blocks Swiss deal with EU on Croatia

UK blocks Swiss deal with EU on Croatia
EU headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP
The UK has scuppered, at least temporarily, an agreement in principle between Bern and Brussels over the free movement of people between Switzerland and Croatia, the Swiss broadcaster RTS says.

Switzerland reached a solution with the European Union after earlier refusing to sign a free movement accord with the Croatians in the wake of the February 9th national referendum in favour of immigration quotas.

But in an unexpected development on Tuesday, Britain’s representative called for a “time out” on the talks, calling the subject “sensitive and significant” and that he could not agree to the accord “without referring it to my minister”, RTS reported.

The minister involved would presumably be UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The British assured that the decision was “nothing against the Swiss” and that it simply concerned an issue of “principles” and European procedure, the broadcaster said.

The UK delegation promised to review the proposed changes as quickly as possible.

The move foiled hopes from the Swiss federal government to resolve the Croatian situation before Easter.

An agreement would have allowed free movement of workers between Switzerland and Croatia through a federal government order, with a phased-in approach involving quotas, according to reports.

Two weeks ago, RTS reported that the two countries had reached an agreement to ensure that Croatia, which became the 28th member state of the EU in July 2013, was not discriminated against.

Bern earlier said the February 9th vote prevented it by law from signing a previously agreed protocol because it was incompatible with immigrant quotas.

A resolution of the impasse with the EU over Croatia is tied to reopening of discussions with Brussels over Switzerland’s participation in the Erasmus student exchange and Horizon 2020 research programmes.

The EU froze Swiss involvement in the programs, affecting millions of euros in grants, in response to the refusal of Bern to sign the freedom movement of labour deal with Croatia.

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