Free movement

Switzerland keeps door closed on Europeans

Published on 25 April 2013 at 14:26

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Switzerland decided on April 24 to extend, for a year, its quota system on long-term work permits to all citizens of the European Union (with the exception of Romanians and Bulgarians who are already subjected to a transition period). The measure is scheduled to come into force on May 1. It follows quotas on short-term work permits imposed in April 2012 on the so-called EU-8, citizens of Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.

"The EU regrets" this decision, runs a headline in Swiss daily Neue Züricher Zeitung. By extending the restrictions to the so-called EU-17, Bern is ensuring the application of "the safeguard clause" provided for in the bilateral treaties signed with the Union in 1999. This safeguard clause caps the delivery of work permits at 53,700. Yet, notes the newspaper –

If the Federal Council [Swiss government] hoped to escape criticism for discrimination in applying the clause to the 17 other European Countries, this failed to convince Ms Ashton [the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs]. According to her, [Switzerland] continues to discriminate between member states, which is intolerable.

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Meanwhile, Swiss daily Le Temps reckons that this measure "does not ruffle the EU's feathers". Yet, the paper calls the move "migratory cosmetics," which may reassure Brussels, but not the Swiss people –

This decision can be sold to Brussels for three reasons. Switzerland respects its contract with the EU. The system avoids discrimination between Europeans. It applies only to long-term permits, which reduces its impact. [...] To think that the Swiss can be thus reassured seems quite naïve. Because they are not stupid, they will see that the migratory pressure from Europe will not be truly reduced. [...] The Swiss can understand, as they have already shown, that European immigration – which is favoured with good reason over that from the rest of the world – makes the country more prosperous.

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