Swiss Government Closer to Limits on EU Immigration, Reports Say

  • Swiss voted in 2014 referendum to limit immigration from EU
  • Immgration curbs could damage economy by nullifying treaties

The Swiss government will discuss implementing an upper limit on newcomers from European Union countries as early as Friday and could unilaterally enact a restriction at some point if no agreement on migration control can be reached, two newspapers reported.

Rather than a quota system, the government may consider a “special protection clause” that would go into effect if immigration reaches a certain threshold, the NZZ am Sonntag and the SonntagsZeitung reported on Sunday, citing sources they didn’t identify. Rene Lenzin, a spokesman for the federal chancellery in Bern, declined to comment on the reports.

Swiss voters decided in 2014 to end the practice of unrestricted immigration for citizens of EU countries, and the government has until 2017 to implement the change. EU officials have said they won’t renegotiate the matter, and there have been warnings that Switzerland’s implementing a quota system would damage the economy.

Relations between landlocked Switzerland and the EU are governed by a series accords covering topics such as the free movement of persons, agriculture, education and border controls. They contain a “guillotine” clause that will nullify all, if one is struck down.

Voter Complaints

Roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.2 million people aren’t citizens. Newcomers, whose numbers ballooned in the decade after Switzerland adopted EU free movement, have led to complaints about a lack of affordable housing and overcrowded public transport.

According to the NZZ, a deal with EU officials in Brussels could be reached. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has already backed a plan, it said. While a legal underpinning for the change could be ironed out, the key question of how many immigrants would be allowed hasn’t yet been decided, it said.

SonntagsZeitung reported that unilateral action was a “serious option.” It said the special-protection clause was hammered out in a deal between business groups and the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party, which had spearheaded the 2014 referendum. Former SVP Justice Minister Christoph Blocher agreed to drop his demand for quotas, the paper said.

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