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EU hails Swiss immigration decision as ‘progress’

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EU hails Swiss immigration decision as ‘progress’
File photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP
10:46 CET+01:00
After nearly three years of fraught relations between the EU and Switzerland, things seem to be getting back on track after the EU welcomed the Swiss decision on immigration on Thursday.
In a meeting of a Swiss-EU mixed committee on Thursday, EU member states hailed Switzerland’s willingness to respect the agreement on free movement of people after the Swiss parliament’s decision regarding the 2014 anti-immigration initiative, Le Temps reported. 
 
Last week Switzerland finally adopted a hugely watered down version of the 2014 anti-immigration initiative that will give unemployed Swiss workers national preference over EU citizens in the Swiss job market but does not impose any limits on EU immigration, as originally voted for by the Swiss public.
 
By dropping the idea of quotas, the Swiss parliament hoped to avoid a clash with the EU over its fundamental principle of free movement, the basis of many other bilateral agreements between the two.
 
And it seems that it has – almost. 
 
On Thursday the EU Commission reacted to the Swiss decision in its first official statement, hailing their “progress” on the issue and saying the new Swiss law “should make it possible to preserve the integrity of the contractual commitments that link the EU and Switzerland”.
 
However, it warned that further clarification and “guarantees” would be required regarding the key elements of the new law. 
 
“Questions over access to information about vacant positions and the rights of cross-border workers are of particular importance,” said the statement.
 
According to Le Temps, France and Germany in particular highlighted “ambiguities” in the new law over the rights of cross-border workers, fearing they could be subjected to discrimination in the Swiss job market. Many French and German citizens, as well as Italians, work over the border in Switzerland. 
 
“The law goes in the right direction but we are going to look further at the details of the implementation,” a European source told Le Temps.
 
Nevertheless, the new law is a “first step towards normalization” of EU-Swiss relations, Mario Gattiker of the Swiss migration office (SEM) told the paper.
 
Praising the Swiss decision, the president of the European Commission , Jean-Claude Juncker, said it “guarantees the full integrity one of our founding principles: the free movement of people” and as a result, 2017 could lead to the “deepening of relations between the EU and Switzerland”. 
 
That will be a huge relief to many in the Swiss government who grappled for nearly three years to find a way of implementing the 2014 anti-immigration initiative without transgressing free movement. 
 
But it is likely to further anger those who supported the 2014 initiative and wanted to see it implemented to the letter, by imposing quotas on EU immigration. 
 
Many, including the Swiss People's Party (SVP), felt the Swiss parliament had been undemocratic by ignoring the will of the people. 
 
The Swiss people are likely to have their say on whether the EU bilaterals should be preserved at all costs after the government  on Wednesday outlined its proposal for a referendum on the subject.

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