The Malta Independent 29 May 2024, Wednesday
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Swiss to impose restrictions on EU workers

David Casa Saturday, 27 April 2013, 12:22 Last update: about 11 years ago

In 2000 Switzerland signed the Agreement on Free Movement of Persons with the European Union. This agreement allowed EU citizens to move freely to Switzerland to live and work. There are approximately 1.2 million EU citizens living in Switzerland. However, the agreement contains a safeguard clause which the Swiss Federal Council decided last week to invoke. The safeguard will apply restrictions to the number of category B residents permits (five year permits) granted to self employed and employed EU workers in Switzerland. The safeguard allows quotas to be imposed when the number of residence permits granted exceeds the average number of permits granted during the three preceding years by a minimum of 10%. However, such restrictions can only be put in place until 31 May 2014. In recent years the number of EU immigrants to Switzerland has been 60, 000 to 80,000 more than the number of people emigrating from Switzerland.

Restrictions on the free movement of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to Switzerland have been in place since they joined the EU in 2007. Under the safeguard and under the accession agreements of both member states such restrictions may be in place until 31 May 2019. Last year the Swiss Federal Council introduced temporary movement restrictions on eight of the countries which joined the European Union in 2004. Theses countries were mainly central and eastern European member states. Malta also joined the European Union in 2004 but has continued enjoyed full freedom of movement in Switzerland. However, from 1 May 2013 the Swiss Federal Council will be extending the restrictions on resident permits to citizens from the eight countries for one year. During this time the number of resident permits which may be granted will be capped at 2,180. Furthermore, the Swiss Federal Council will also apply the restrictions to the remaining seventeen European Union member states, including Malta. The number from residence permits granted to citizens from these seventeen member states will be capped at 53, 700 from 1 June 2013 for one year.

The European Commission has criticised the decision of the Swiss government to extend restrictions on the free movement of citizens, which is one of the basic freedoms of the European Union. The European Parliament has also expressed its regret at the decision. Last year the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the issue. MEPs from Germany and Poland feel that the introduction of such restrictions emphasised the continued failure by both the European Commission and Switzerland to resolve the diverging views they have regarding the free movement of people. The German and Polish MEPs view this as a sign that the current system of cooperation between the European Union and Switzerland is not working as well as it should.

The Swiss Federal Council has defended its decision to introduce such restrictions. It has stated that such measures are necessary to make immigration more acceptable to Swiss society. The Council went ahead with the decision to invoke the safeguard despite the lower parliamentary house opposing its use. There are many reasons against the introduction of such restrictions. Switzerland benefits greatly from its relationship with the European Union. The EU is Switzerland's most important trading partner with 56% of its export products being sent to the EU. This has resulted in Switzerland being an ideal location of business. In addition, Switzerland benefits greatly from consumer spending.

However, Switzerland wishes to curb the negative effects that EU immigration has on areas such as spatial planning, infrastructure and affordable housing. It is felt the increase of EU immigrants has added to the increase in house prices. The Swiss Federal Council is aware that these restrictions can only be used as a short term measure. It is therefore planning to hold two referendums on immigration in the future to provide a long term solution to the immigration issue.

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