EU warns Swiss over vote to curb cross-border workers

The EU warned Switzerland on Monday over a vote by one of its cantons backing curbs on migrants, an issue being closely watched in London as a possible template for Brexit negotiations.

EU warns Swiss over vote to curb cross-border workers
Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann (R) and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker met in Zurich on September 19th to talk about the implementation of Swiss immigration restrictions. Photo: AFP

A measure making it more difficult for foreign workers to be employed won 58 percent of the vote in a referendum on Sunday in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which borders Italy.

Brussels said the vote would further complicate thorny negotiations over a national vote in early 2014 in which Switzerland voted for similar curbs, despite them violating the EU’s free movement rules.

“The EU and Switzerland have been in intense talks for months now in order to find a solution on how to implement the Swiss popular vote on free movement in a way that respects obligations under the free movement agreement,” said Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

“Yesterday’s vote will not make the already difficult talks any easier,” he told a daily briefing.

EU Commission President Juncker will visit Switzerland at the end of October to continue discussions in order to find “an agreement acceptable to both sides”, said Schinas.

Switzerland is not an EU member but is signed up to the bloc’s Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel and free movement of workers.

The referendum in Ticino was presented by the conservative Swiss People’s Party. The vote’s result still requires approval from the Swiss federal government.

However Bern is unlikely to look kindly at the Ticino vote, as it struggles to repair frayed relations with the EU and figure out how to apply the 2014 vote.

The EU is keen to take a hard line on Switzerland shirking its duties from bilateral agreements ahead of the bloc’s negotiations with London over its departure from the bloc.

Pro-Brexit campaigners want Britain to limit migration from EU countries but keep access to the single market — a combination that EU leaders have repeatedly warned is impossible.


Ticino officials ask government to reintroduce checks at Swiss-Italian border

With a number of cases of mutated coronavirus detected in a retirement home and middle school, the canton wants Swiss federal authorities to better monitor cross-border traffic.

Ticino officials ask government to reintroduce checks at Swiss-Italian border
Ticino wants better checks at the Italian border. Photo by AFP

About 70,000 workers from Italy commute each day to their jobs in Ticino, but “the significant cross-border flow appears only partially linked to professional reasons”, cantonal officials said in a statement released this week

Worried that people entering the canton from Italy will spread the new Covid variant, Ticino officials asked the Federal Council “to introduce systematic controls at the border and to close minor crossings, except for the crossings most used by health sector workers”.

The recent decree of Italy’s government limits travel between Italian regions but not towards neighbouring states.

Switzerland’s border with Italy has been open since June 15th, 2020, after being closed for three months during the first wave of the pandemic. At that time, only cross-border workers were allowed to come to Ticino.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Cross-border train service between Switzerland and Italy to continue running 

Since the re-opening, border checks have been random and sporadic.

Ticino authorities added that “it would also be desirable to systematically subject travellers returning to Switzerland from travel abroad, in particular from risk areas, to rapid coronavirus tests”.

The Federal Council has not yet responded to Ticino’s request. 

Entry into Switzerland from France, Germany and Austria is also allowed, except for the quarantine requirement that may be in place at the time of arrival.

From January 15th, travellers from Germany’s Land Sachsen and Italy’s Region Veneto must quarantine for 10 days upon entering in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland's quarantine rules?